One of the greatest challenges for any entrepreneur is delegation: giving responsibility for some key part of growing the business to someone else. The analogy is hackneyed, but accurate: we think of our businesses as our children, and no one can take care of our children as well as we can.
The truth is that like our children, as our enterprises grow up, others will take care of them and support them – and they need to learn how to take care of themselves. Thus, one of the key skills for entrepreneurs wishing to grow their enterprises is delegation. Effective delegation builds “bench depth”: the ability for emerging leaders to take on more responsibilities and grow the business faster.
Here are a few of our top tips for effective delegation:
- Be clear about what is expected. Generally this means specifying the result that is required (what by when). Although this step is obvious, it requires more thought than it is often given. Entrepreneurs often become enamoured with their approach and so communicate not only the result that they what, but the method by which that result should be accomplished. Sometimes the specific method is important, but often it is simply a way to increase the comfort level of the delegator. Give as much flexibility to decide how the task is to be accomplished and the deliverable produced as possible.
- Don’t confuse accountability with blame. Part of the reason for delegating is building the capability of current and future leaders. Developing new skills requires minimizing the risk associated with trying new things. Accountability does not mean a free ride. It requires thoughtfulness. Consider the possibly apocryphal story of Thomas J. Watson Sr., Chief Executive Officer of IBM who, replying to a sales rep who had offered his resignation after blowing a million-dollar deal said “Why would I accept this when I have just invested one million dollars in your education?
- When people prove they are accountable, give them more. Recognize the people in your organization who are willing to step up, take risks, and accept new responsibilities. Consider the behaviors you are trying to encourage. For example: do you want to encourage to make safe bets that always work out, but may not grow the business; or do you want to encourage people to operate outside their comfort zone, even if things don’t always work out exactly as planned.
- Encourage others to delegate. As your enterprise grows, what used to be executive decisions will be made at (potentially) much lower levels of the organization. Growing delegation capability should be a key component of your growth strategy.
Delegation, accountability, and blame are complex subjects and difficult to master. Share your stories,and lessons learned below.