Delegate Away

“If you really want to grow as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to learn to delegate.”

— Richard Branson.

Be honest, this isn’t the first time someone’s told you to delegate is it? It’s understandable, you’ve got a lot to do, and you got where you are because you’re the best at doing it; so you should just put your head down and do it, right? The problem is, while your head was down you got swamped and now you’re stuck in a sea of work up busy creek without a paddle flapping around like a ship without a rudder and starting to sink.

Okay, so that watery analogy got away from me somewhat, but that’s because I’m too busy! If I had more time, maybe I could’ve thought of something better for the above, but alas, there’s no way out of this quagmire of ever-growing work except to work through it and hope it lessens eventually.

But there is! Delegation, that old chestnut. We see the value, obviously; if you were able to prioritize and delegate well, you’d have more time to focus on the things that truly only you can do. With more time to focus, you’d have more time to do them well; and then we’d be in a world where the first paragraph of this article made sense, and that would be nice, wouldn’t it?

“the inability to delegate is one of the biggest problems I see with managers at all levels.”

— Eli Broad

So why don’t we do it? If we all know the power of delegation what keeps us clinging to our tasks like [insert simile here when less busy]? Well, luckily for us, Harvard Business Review’s Amy Gallo has answered this exact question in her article “Why Aren’t You Delegating?”. In the article she says that one of the main reasons people don’t delegate is due to the erroneous belief that “they are too busy to delegate — that it’s more efficient for them to just do it themselves”. Gallo cites several studies that prove this claim to be based in falsehood.

The best way to start delegating is to rationally accept its advantages and then, simply, to make a conscious effort to start doing it. It seems obvious, right? But the biggest barrier to effective delegation is a reluctance to do it at all; either because you think it’s ineffective; or you suffer from what Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of Organizational Behaviour at Stanford, calls the “Self Enhancement Bias”, meaning that you believe passing on work detracts from your own importance. Pfeffer stresses that you shouldn’t assume that you are immune to such biases, and should instead proactively ask yourself how to counter them.

“No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.”

— Andrew Carnagie

Once we’ve accepted the need to delegate more than we might want to; and realised the power of the invisible biases which might be stopping us, how do we do it right? Luckily for us again (aren’t we lucky today?) the MindTools editorial team wrote an article to tackle just this question. In the aptly titled “How to Delegate” they answer the question of, er, how to delegate. They look at when to delegate and when not to; stating that you should ask yourself a few key questions to know whether or not to delegate something:

  • Is the task something someone else can do as well as you? (If given the right information)
  • Will it help someone else grow their skills?
  • Will the task recur?
  • Do you have time to delegate it effectively (Tasks do, admittedly take a little time to explain)

If the answer to most of these questions is yes, then delegate! The next question will always be to whom should we delegate? Well, clearly the people who have the experience, knowledge or skills to complete the task; but you should also take into account their working style, for example how independent they are, and their current workload.

“You live and die by your ability to prioritize. You must focus on the most important, mission-critical tasks each day and night, and then share, delegate, delay or skip the rest.”

— Jessica Jackley

When delegating, it is important that you clearly articulate what you want; otherwise if the result is not as expected, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself. This articulation should include:

  • Precisely what the task is.
  • The exact time requirements.
  • Any constraints and boundaries that are relevant.
  • The lines of authority to follow.
  • The autonomy the person should take to the task (i.e. if they should use their initiative when in doubt, or ask you)

This may sound like a lot to consider, and explains why people often simply do tasks themselves rather than waste the brain-power answering these points, but in reality it simply boils down to the following:

“I’ve got to write this article on delegation, but I’m too busy, I know, I’ll delegate it. Okay, who should do it? Brad? No, Brad can’t write. Sarah? Sarah’s busy too, ah, I know, Lucy.”

“Okay Lucy, so I need you to write this article for me, don’t bother responding, this is an imaginary conversation. I need this article on delegation by Wednesday at 9am at the latest, it needs to be around 1,000 words, better over than under. Don’t mention John Smith too much, we used him a lot last week. If you get stuck, use your initiative, or in doubt ask Sarah, failing that come to me. That all make sense? Any questions? No?”

If this is too much, and you really are bleeding-from-the-eardrums busy all the time, then the best thing you can do is to hire well. Hire a Personal Assistant, or even a Virtual Assistant who’s experienced enough in your field and schedule to be able to accurately judge these factors and delegate your work for you. Essentially you’ll be delegating your delegation; which is too meta and fantastic not to work.

“Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it . . . Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.”

— David Ogilvy