Running a Small Business|Talent

Pain-Free Delegation: A How-To Guide

Delegating is key in running a successful small business. It can be scary. But, you can have pain-free delegation if you follow a couple of simple steps.

In our post “How to Transition from an Owner to a CEO”, we shared how delegating is key in order to run a successful small business.  Having run several businesses, we know delegating can be scary.  But, you can have pain-free delegation if you follow a couple of simple steps.

In Katie Lundin’s article “Delegation 101: What small business owners need to know”, she outlined four key steps that we thought were very smart.  So, we thought we would share them with you.  Her steps on how to take the pain out of delegating are:

  1. Chose the right tasks
  2. Chose the right employees
  3. Bake it in
  4. Document Company Knowledge

We would like to build on them.

How can you choose the right tasks?

Ms. Lundin’s thoughts were:

"Delegate tasks that you don’t need to do.  There are crucial responsibilities that are best handled by you.  What are they?  Anything else should go to your support staff.  Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses.  Tasks that you’re just not good at… they should be handled by someone else." -- Business News

Pain-Free Delegation Starts with a List

Start by making a list of all your daily activities. Next, we sort them.  In one column, put all the critical tasks. In the other, put the non-critical.

If You’re a Task Hoarder, Delegation won’t be Pain-Free

Sometimes, small business owners are task hoarders.  So, the analogy of ‘keep’ vs. ‘toss’ when cleaning out a full closet of clothes can help be a helpful visual.  For instance, you’ll often find you have clothes that you haven’t worn in years stuffed in the back of your closet.  The same is true for your daily tasks. Get rid of them. Make some room so you can painlessly delegate.

No one is good at everything.

Pain-free delegation requires that you delegate the tasks that others can do better. So, on that same list, after you’ve marked critical vs. not critical, next mark those you are good at doing vs. those you are not.  The list of critical tasks that you are ‘not good at doing’ will help with the next step, and will help you find the talents that can do what you don’t want to.

How do you choose the right people to whom you delegate the tasks?

Matching the person with the right task makes delegation pain-free

First, we suggest that you take a piece of paper for each employee that you have.  On that piece of paper, write down what you think are that person’s skills, strengths, and weaknesses.

Next, take your list of non-critical tasks and try to match them to each employee.  As you do so, make sure to ask yourself Ms. Lundin’s questions:

"Does the employee have the time/capacity to take on more work?  Is the employee skilled enough to perform the task well?  Does the employee show the potential to learn to perform the task well?" -- Business Times

For instance, we’ve found that having a table very helpful in classifying workers.

How do you make it automatic, so delegation becomes pain-free?

"Every extra decision you have to make is an extra drain on your resources.  Decision fatigue is a very real threat.  So, make it pain-free to delegate by creating your delegation plan ahead of time." -- Business Times

So, how do you do that?

Now, this is where those sheets of paper come in handy again.  Because you took the time to assign tasks, examine strengths/weakness, you’ve actually created job descriptions and development plans.

Wow, that sounds really corporate, and it is. However, corporations have these for a reason.  It makes delegation easier.  Now, you already know who is good at what, so when new tasks arise, you know where to put them.  Plus, you also know what skills a certain individual needs.  This makes it clear as to what training is necessary for that person to grow.

How do you document this company knowledge so delegation is always pain-free?

Well, frankly, you already have

Now, all you need to do is type up the pages we’ve been using into some formal document you can file.  Frankly, this might seem time-consuming. But, if you’ve been doing the steps all along, it shouldn’t be as bad as starting from scratch.

You can make delegating pain-free

Since you followed the steps above, you’re well on your way to pain-free delegation.  It can be challenging the first time you do it, but once you have, it becomes much easier and it sets you up for growing more in the future.  

Sometimes, this is hard to do by yourself.  As a fellow task hoarder, it was hard for me.  We’ve coached many people through this process, and we can help you too.

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About the Author

Brian Cairns, CEO of Prostrategix Consulting. Over 25 years of business experience as a corporate executive, entrepreneur, and small business owner. For more information, please visit my LinkedIn profile

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