The Delegation Mind-Shift

samfloy~25 June 2020 /Delegation

Delegation is something you probably know you should do, but don’t do enough of. But unlike flossing, delegation can transform you and your business.

For many people, it is like a mental block that requires a shift in mindset. In this article, we look at the overarching principle of delegating, why and when it can be a good idea, and an outline on how to start.

The overarching principle

In order for everything else about delegation to make sense it’s important to lay the foundation: almost all work can be broken down into smaller parts.

Once you are able to view your work as a combination of tasks (and tasks a combination of sub-tasks) you can begin to see that one person doesn’t have to do everything in order to complete a task.

One person can still be responsible for the end result, but others contribute to it getting done.

Why delegate?

Delegation has three main benefits:

1. Delegation is a powerful time management principle: with only 24 hours in a day, you and your team can only do so much. But when you delegate, the task still gets done and you get to use the time saved elsewhere, including on more strategically important tasks. In Stephen Covey speak, delegation lets you trade time in quadrants 3 (urgent not important) and 4 (not urgent nor important) for quadrant 2 (not urgent but important).

2. Delegation can upgrade your output to expert level: no one is an expert or has experience in everything. When you give a task to an expert you can expect an expert result. If you are great at website design but terrible at content, find an expert to do the content for you.
“The secret of success lies not in doing your own work but it recognising the best person to do it.” Andrew Carnegie.

3. Delegation multiplies your output: instead of limiting your ideas to your own capacity to execute, you can give your ideas to others to execute. Every good idea executed will increase your returns.

Delegation is not for everyone or every task

Before you start to delegate first consider the following caveats:

1. Not every task should be delegated: strongly consider whether or not you want to delegate tasks that are part of your key value proposition. You will likely want to protect your IP, key customers, and reputation. You probably shouldn’t give your crown jewels to strangers.

2. Not every person can delegate: especially at the start of a delegation relationship, the delegate’s output may not meet your exact expectation. Realising the full benefits of delegation requires patience to give feedback and investment to fine tune your process. For some tasks you may always need to do the final 1% meaning it can be tough for perfectionists, or those in a hurry.

Overcoming resistance to delegating

Some people, myself included, can feel guilt at delegating shitty particular tasks to someone else. The internal logic often comes from a place of care: how could I possibly dump this on someone else?

The response to this is to compensate the person doing the task.

In its simplest form this involves having e.g. a dedicated assistant who is paid to do these tasks. If the task is too complex/ sensitive that it should only be done by one of your inner circle, then take something else off their plate.

It’s valid to feel angst at asking an already busy team member to do payroll. If, however, this means you can free up headspace on how to optimise an existing process, or discover the insight needed to expand into a new market then this is *priceless*.

Remember, if other tasks are blocking you from doing important things, freeing up time to think clearly and strategically is to the benefit of everyone.

What to delegate?

We will cover this more in future posts but it’s helpful to distinguish whether the purpose of delegation is to reclaim time or get expertise.

The two extremes are a continuum, with the former typically being simpler tasks you could do, but don’t have the bandwidth to do properly and the latter as tasks you’d need to learn how to do effectively.

Regardless, we see the sweet spot for delegation as high frequency tasks that are low importance (i.e. repeated at least once a fortnight). Tasks to reclaim time, in particular, are easier to delegate in a predictable environment and so early stage start ups trying to delegate a constantly evolving operations procedure may benefit waiting until it’s more stable.

A key principle to reemphasise is that you do not need to delegate all of a task, particularly if it carries some importance. Delegate the heavy lifting and mundane part of the task but reserve the critical part for yourself.

How to delegate

We will cover this more in future posts, but it can be as simple as the following three steps:

  1. Write a “how to document” for the tasks, a.k.a. a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
  2. Walk-through the SOP with the delegate
  3. With each repetition the delegate gradually takes over ownership of the task, asking you for clarification when needed, and updating the SOP

Who to delegate to: internal, outsourcing, and freelancers

Delegation has never been easier. You can walk across your office or around the world. Online platforms have expanded access to quality people, often at a discount. The earth is flat.

In future posts, we will take you through best practices on how to find (and vet) the best people for the job.

Next steps

Delegation can deliver enormous returns once you have the mindset that component parts of (repeatable) tasks can be done by others. In future posts, we will expand on many of the practicalities raised in this post so that you can become more effective at delegating.

Next post: 6 Steps for Hiring the Right Freelancer