For the small business owner, deciding what, when and how to delegate, along with to whom to delegate to, are sometimes very difficult decisions to make. After all, it has taken your blood, sweat and sometimes tears to build the business. If you really want to let the business realize its full growth potential, you can no longer do everything yourself. This involves some letting go, which can be difficult for many owners.

Delegation is practiced for two major reasons: to optimize productivity (yours) and to develop the staff underneath you to be all they can be. Allow me to expand on these two concepts:

Bliss’s definition of productivity goes something like this: if a boss and an employee are both fully and equally capable of performing a particular task, then the employee should always perform that task. Why? In most cases, the employee earns less salary than the boss, which equates to costing the company less money if the employee performs the task. This approach also allows the boss to spend that time saved on a task that has more value to the company, usually something only they can perform. So, it makes economic or financial sense to allow the employee to perform the task. Remember, the definition states that the boss and employee are both equally capable of performing the task.

Staff Development
Many key employees have the potential to advance to more responsible, higher value producing positions. Some employees achieve that potential by job rotation, training, or executive coaching/development programs. Others have to achieve their higher potential by performing their responsibilities at a more productive level. A key to any of these types of development is the opportunity to do things they may not ordinarily do because their boss is fully capable of performing the task. This is where delegation comes in. If an employee is 60% or more capable of doing the task or function, you may consider delegating the assignment to this person.

You may be saying, “By the time it takes me to explain what I want done, correct the mistakes that are bound to happen, I might just as well do it myself.” From the productivity definition described above, you would be right in saying that this action is not a productive decision. But, you are not using delegation to be productive; you are using delegation to develop an employee with potential. You may even have to spend more time with this person on several occasions until they can finally perform the task at a full productivity level. In the long run, it is worth it to spend this extra time. As this person develops their skills at this particular function, you can devote your time to more important, value-producing items, such as developing new strategies to grow the business, or spending time evaluating the market for new opportunities.

Keys to Effective Delegation
Here are 8 keys to effective delegation:

  1. Know why you are delegating this particular task or assignment: for productivity or development reasons.
  2. Be able to explain the desired result or outcome. For development purposes, consider allowing the person to determine the steps or process they will take to reach the desired outcome.
  3. If you are delegating for development purposes, expect some mistakes, and value the growth experience.
  4. Know and be able to clearly articulate the outcome or desired result.
  5. Establish some checkpoints along the way for the person to review their progress, identify obstacles and confirm direction.
  6. Communicate the decision-making role by following the Levels of Authority chart below.
  7. If you are delegating for productivity reasons do your best to let the person run with the project.
  8. Make sure the person knows you are holding them accountable; take steps to provide positive or negative rewards for their performance.

Levels of Authority to Consider
Here are six levels of decision-making authority to consider when delegating an assignment. The level you decide to authorize should be clearly communicated to the “delegatee.”

  1. Gather information and report back to the boss so they can make the decision.
  2. Gather information and provide some options to the boss so they can decide.
  3. Gather information and make a decision within specified parameters.
  4. Make your own decision and report results to the boss.
  5. Make your own decision and report results to the boss only if the desired outcome is not reached.
  6. Make your own decision and no reporting is necessary.

When all is said and done, delegation is a critical skill and habit for managers at all levels to master. Growth, both business and professional, cannot happen without strong delegation.