To be an effective leader, manager, or entrepreneur, you have to learn to delegate well. Otherwise, what your team can do is capped by what you can do, your ability to get things done, and/or your ability to think through every situation that might come up.
If you have people on your team who aren’t as busy as you are, that’s a sign that you need to improve your delegation skills. If everybody is just as busy as you are, that’s a sign to rethink your business strategy and business model.
There are five common delegation mistakes people make:
- Delegating too little
- Focusing too much on the HOW rather than on the WHAT and WHY
- Not giving people enough lead time
- Not giving constructive feedback early enough
- Accusing before asking
I was originally going to write one post highlighting all of these, but as I started writing, I decided that I’d rather handle one per post and give examples and context for each mistake, rather than writing one 600-word post with less substance or one 6,000-word post that you’d have to make time to make time for.
For today’s post, I’m starting with the first mistake, not delegating enough. What I’ve observed is that a lot of people have a particular habit that is preventing them from delegating, so I’ll start there.
The Bootstrapper Habit Prevents Delegation
Many managers, leaders, and entrepreneurs tend to be fantastic intuitive operators — they see things that other people miss. They often develop what I call the bootstrapper habit: when they see something that needs to be done, they immediately dive headlong into doing it. This works well when they’re solo operators, but as they start getting ever larger teams and scopes of business, it caps what their teams can do.
Because the bootstrapper habit is a habit, we have to replace it with another habit, so my intent is to help you replace the bootstrapper habit with the delegation habit. That is, when you see something that needs to be done, I want you to immediately ask the two questions below.
The two power questions you’ll have to internalize to make delegation a habit are:
- Who else can do this?
- Who else can do parts of this?
The first question may seem to entail the second, but the specificity of the question spurs new answers. It’s also important because what I hear all the time is “well, I’m still going to have to be involved in this project, so I might as well just do it myself.”
Wrong. Do the 15% that’s your high-value activity and let someone else do the rest.
Rather than leave that abstract, I’ll provide a few examples of how to effectively delegate pieces of a project or task. I hope the examples give you some ideas you can use today.
One of the challenges of vetting potential clients, opportunities, vendors, or partners is compiling all of the information you might need to look at. There’s the public information that we can find through various websites and social media platforms. In the case of vendors or partners, you might also want to contact other people who have bought from them or partnered with them.
That type of research can take hours because of all of the side paths you might find yourself on. Each new piece of data could itself become a new opportunity or project. An hour into thinking about a new way to present your business based upon something you saw, you’ll be lucky to remember that you were supposed to be finding a phone number for a point of contact.
The reality is that the decision that you need to make can often be made in 5-15 minutes of focused thinking. A lot of the research and dossier-making can be done by someone else, and their doing so makes it less likely that you will fall into the research rabbit hole.
It’s true that it’s quite likely that you’ll need to use the dossier as a springboard and get some other research on your own, but it’s better to start from the dossier or information than to pull it all together yourself. And the more you work with someone else on the research and dossier-making, the better they’ll get at it, to the point where they may be able to make a recommended decision for you. And when their recommended decisions are better than yours, you know it’s time to hand them the responsibility to start finding opportunities, too.
Your whole team wins when other people can start helping you make great decisions.
Preparing Sales or Marketing Reports for Specific Questions
Few sales and marketing systems actually give you the data you need to make decisions without a whole lot of clicking involved. People generally fall into two groups when it comes to metrics: 1) they would rather be getting a cavity filled at the dentist’s office, or 2) they end up having to go to a Metrics Anonymous meeting because of how addicted they are to looking at stats. All that clicking gives the first group of people the hives and gives the second group the highs.
So rather than spending all your time clicking OR avoiding the clicking, you can instead delegate it to someone else who likely isn’t so avoidant or overly interested.
The key here is targeting a key performance indicator that really matters. In an e-commerce scenario, you’ll need to work through which stage of the sales funnel needs the most attention; if you’re not sure, target how many people add your products to the cart, as that’s a good anchor point for determining how well your pages are doing and how many people are completing the checkout process. In a service scenario, you might focus on the frequency of leads coming through so you can get a baseline for how well your holistic marketing (including word of mouth) is working and then try different marketing methods to see how they shift that baseline.
In either case, keeping up with these trends isn’t something you need to do. Once you know what you’re targeting, you can delegate it to a teammate and have them manage it. You might also need to have them either remind you to look at it or put it on the agenda for every meeting you have with them.
Preparing Proposals and Service Agreements
You know how it goes. You’re having a great conversation with a prospect and they’re excited to work with you. You end the meeting, letting them know you’ll send over a proposal or service agreement. The “Oh yeah!” high from that meeting now becomes the “Oh crap!” dread as you think about writing it all up.
Again, you might not be able to delegate preparing the whole proposal to someone else because they don’t have all the information you do and perhaps giving them all that information wouldn’t really save you time. But you can delegate major chunks of the project to someone else.
Of course, to do so, you’ll need to come up with a proposal or agreement template that you actually use, rather than having sorta templates that you piece together every time on the fly while dealing with the chattering monkeys screaming about all the things you need to update in your proposal templates. But that’s one of the benefits of delegation: it -forces- encourages you to build assets that other people can make sense of and use. The easier it is for someone else to use, the less cognitive load it’ll have on you when you open it up next time.
That template will always have a mix of standard information, such as payment terms and service terms, and client-specific information. The client-specific information doesn’t all have to come from you, though, as someone else can copy and rename the template, fill in the client’s name and business information, and adjust any dates, payment terms, or service terms as appropriate. Sure, that might save you only 15 minutes, but you’re likely buried under a heap of 15-minute tasks already. The more of those we can pull off the pile, the better.
So that would just leave you with filling out the information agreed to in your meeting with your prospective client or customer, which may take you 15-30 minutes of focused time, rather than starting the click/copy/change/chatter process.
For added measure, you could change your sales conversation such that if the prospect agrees, you let them know that your teammate will be following up with an agreement, an invoice, and onboarding instructions.
Delegation Isn’t All or Nothing
I specifically chose these examples for a few reasons: 1) they relate to sales, marketing, and opportunities and thus represent ways to use delegation to increase revenue rather than just save time, 2) they show how you can pull out pieces to delegate, and 3) they’re all things I’ve personally done and helped clients do. In each case, my clients and I have freed up hours that we were able to use to focus on something else that only we can do.
Think about it this way: if delegating saves you an hour per week, that’s an hour per week you could be spending doing something else in your business or (gasp!) not spending that time in your business. If you spent the next 12 months identifying one activity you could delegate that would save you an hour per week and then actively building the assets, communication guidelines, and processes needed to actually delegate it, then after 12 months, you’d get a day back per week.
It so happens that I created a new aid a few months ago called The Handoff Holder that helps with the identification. You can download it from that link and it also lives with the free planners & productivity tools.
Handing over 60–80% of the time-intensive work that’s on your plate frees up 60–80% of your time to focus on higher-value work. Delegation isn’t an all-or-nothing affair. (Click here to share this post – thank you!)
In the next post in this series, I’ll talk about how to start focusing on the WHY and WHAT rather than on the HOW when it comes to delegation. I wanted to start with the WHAT and WHY myself, though, to model the message. Stay tuned!
Charlie, I like this point “Who else can do parts of this?” to get thinking about delegation. While I think it is generally better to delegate an entire activity, there are certainly still gains to be had from delegating part of a broader activity.