"I would never have achieved what I did without learning the art of delegation," Virgin founder and CEO Richard Branson said. Branson credits delegating tasks as key to his success. The first task he delegated was accounting.
Delegating tasks is critical for business growth. Without delegation, your business is limited to the time you can devote to it. Sooner or later, the business will stop growing.
Besides, many tasks you can delegate are things you probably don’t want to do anyway, and you'll find paying yourself to be your own admin isn’t a worthwhile investment.
Great Leaders Delegate Tasks
"To be a great leader, you have to learn to delegate well," the Harvard Business Review (HBR) said. "One of the most difficult transitions for leaders to make is the shift from doing to leading." Doing everything yourself will limit your business's growth to the amount of time you can give to it, which is finite.
"In the short term, you may have the stamina to get up earlier, stay later, and out-work the demands you face," HBR said. "But the inverse equation of shrinking resources and increasing demands will eventually catch up to you, and at that point, how you involve others sets the ceiling of your leadership impact."
"While it may seem difficult, elevating your impact requires you to embrace an unavoidable leadership paradox: You need to be more essential and less involved," HBR said. When you justify your hold on work, you're confusing being involved with being essential."
Knowing What to Delegate
The first step in effectively delegating tasks is to identify what to handoff. The two most significant obstacles to delegation are a) you want to save money by doing things yourself and b) you believe that you can do everything your business needs better than someone else.
These are reasonable assumptions in the earliest phases of your business. But as the business grows, doing everything yourself becomes burdensome and slows you down. Even when you identify tasks you can delegate and have people with the right skills you can trust, some emotional barriers may remain.
These barriers can include:
Fear of being less important
Having less control
Inability to say "no"
What Tasks to Delegate
Here are some questions to ask that can help you to decide what to delegate.
What are you good at (and not good at)?
Start by delegating what you're not good at or don't like to do. Branson realized he wasn't strong in accounting, so he hired someone who was.
Branson also differentiates between being up for learning new skills and finding people who are better at them than you are. "You should try everything at least once," he said. Then, "when I try a new task and find it's not my cup of tea, or I'm simply not cut out to do it, I delegate it to someone who is passionate about the work, knowing that person will do a great job."
Accounting wasn't his cup of tea, so he delegated it.
Does the task move your business forward?
President Dwight Eisenhower famously divided tasks between those that are urgent and important and those that are important and not urgent. The urgent and important are those mission-critical tasks that you should do yourself.
Those that are important and not urgent, like accounting, can be delegated. Executives spend 16 hours a week on busywork, one study found—including expense accounts, scheduling meetings, planning travel, and CRM data entry. These are tasks that you can easily delegate.
Can it be automated?
The last thing you want to do is waste your time and energy on things that can be automated by a computer or software process. For example, marketing automation platforms can generate email responses to form fills, assign leads to a salesperson, and create workflows to communicate with prospects and customers.
Given that executives spend 2-3 hours per day managing email, marketing automation can give you some valuable time back.
Does the task require your judgment each time?
As Eisenhower found, some tasks require you. Identifying those can be tricky. If the project is unique every time and requires a judgment call, you may not want to delegate it.
Decisions on product pricing for large accounts or changes in employee benefits, for example, impact your entire business and team and don't happen frequently enough to be standardized. A question to ask is whether the task is repeatable without your input.
Can you provide a straightforward process for someone else to repeat the task?
If the task is repeatable, can it be documented for someone else to do it? Another obstacle to delegation is that executives think it will take more time to oversee someone else's work than to do it themselves. It will take some time to get a process out of your head and onto a document, but it is well worth that time.
Executives can take up to 12 hours to plan a business trip, for example. Well, sure, you want to use your preferred airline, hotel, and car rental service, and you have preferences for airports and travel times. You can document all of these preferences for someone else to plan for you to review and approve.
Do you trust someone else to do this task?
No matter how repeatable a task is, you'll have difficulty delegating it if you don't trust someone to handle it on your behalf. In some ways, it is surprising that Richard Branson's first delegated task was accounting, as money is one of the hardest things to trust another person to handle. However, he found the right person.
There's no sense in delegating something if you constantly look over the person's shoulder and micromanaging their performance. At the same time, if you don't trust an employee to take over a task, it may be that you haven't found the right employee.
Related to this: The Outsourcing Test: When to Delegate Work Outside your Company
How to Start Delegating Tasks
Once you identify tasks to delegate, you need to find the right people to take these tasks off your plate. If you don't have any employees yet, you'll have to hire someone; if you have employees with the right skills and/or desire to learn and grow, you can engage with them to take on new responsibilities. To delegate effectively, you will need to:
Be clear on the desired outcome.
Dumping work on someone else is not delegating. People need to understand your expectations of what successful completion means. They will need to know what to complete, by when, and what you will use to evaluate success. It also helps a lot to connect any outcomes to business goals.
You want to empower people to contribute to your success and take ownership of the task. That is a lot more likely to happen if the employee understands why the job matters and how it helps move your business forward.
Provide the necessary resources.
If you are hiring a new employee to take on tasks, they likely will have the experience needed. If you're handing off new responsibilities to a current employee, make sure they have access to the training, tools, and guidance to get the work done. Onboarding with the right resources also shows the employee that you are committed to their success and growth.
Give them authority.
It would be best if you also allowed employees to use their best judgment about accomplishing tasks. There's the way you did it, and there's the way someone else might do it—even better or faster. You have to resist the urge to micromanage and focus on the outcome, not the methodologies.
While you don't want to micromanage (you really don't!), you do need to let your employees know that you have their backs. Especially early on, give them access to you either through scheduled check-ins or a chat channel so that they can ask questions, provide updates, and receive feedback.
Be open to setbacks.
If you're a perfectionist, which you are, or you wouldn't resist delegating tasks in the first place, you will be disappointed. No one is perfect, and few people will perfect new functions on day one.
Also, fear of failure is crippling for employees, and it will hurt your business if people are afraid to bring new ideas and practices forward. You want people to be enthusiastic about trying new things.
Take the long view.
Effective delegation also requires patience. Remember, the goal—is to get routine tasks off your desk. Yes, you could do it faster on your own. Eventually, though, so can someone else. It just might take them a few weeks or months to get there.
The flip side of accepting setbacks is to give credit where credit is due. When someone nails the new responsibility, let them know and let the rest of the organization know too.
Celebrating success will accomplish two things—it motivates employees to seek growth opportunities. It also allows people to know who to go to in the future for the task you just delegated.
Give (and receive) feedback.
In addition to celebrating success, you will get farther, faster if you give and receive honest feedback. If a task is not correctly completed or on time, constructive feedback will help the employee do better next time. It would be best if you also welcomed input from the employee.
Did you provide adequate instructions? Are the expectations clear? Are there any other resources they need to get the work done?
Why Delegating Tasks is Important
A Gallup survey of 143 CEOs found that "Those with high Delegator talent posted an average three-year growth rate of 1,751 percent--112 percentage points greater than those CEOs with limited or low Delegator talent." Executives that succeed at delegating tasks see faster growth, plain and simple. It doesn't always come naturally, but delegating is very important.
"I still remember how daunting it felt to hand over work for the first time," Richard Branson said. While there are emotional barriers that may have to do with insecurity or ego, there is also quality control. You want to know that work gets done to your standards, and the easiest way (it seems) to achieve those standards is to do it yourself. Sooner or later, though, you will run out of time. That's a good thing because it means your business is growing.
Delegating Tasks Improves Organizational Efficiency
Good delegation improves communication throughout the organization. When expectations are clear about what needs doing, who needs to do it, business functions get accomplished with greater efficiency. Add a shared understanding of what constitutes success, and you have a smooth-running machine.
Clarity around goals, deliverables, and responsibilities also improves employee engagement because people can own their tasks and the results that those tasks deliver.
On a final note, delegation should be an ongoing conversation. Your employees want growth opportunities. So don't "set it and forget it." At some point, tasks will become routine and boring, and you will want to hand that off to the next person in line for more responsibility and promote the person doing the task to a new role.
Delegate Tasks to Virtual Experts
More executives are turning to virtual assistants to delegate admin work. Virtual assistant service providers are experts a documenting task completion processes and the best do the hiring, training, and performance management for you. Here are some of the tasks a virtual assistant can do.
Manage your calendar and schedule appointments
File expense reports
Enter leads into your CRM
Follow up on sales leads
Manage your email inbox
A virtual assistant can perform just about any task that you can delegate. Good ones excel at building processes that improve productivity and save time.
What You Should Do Now
If you need help delegating, here are a few options to help you:
Download our ebook "How to Use Delegation to be a More Impactful Leader" and get a better understanding of what tasks to delegate, how to delegate effectively, and how to create processes that save you time in your delegation.
Book a free consultation call with Prialto. We can help you regain more of your time by offloading repeatable tasks to a fully managed virtual assistant. One of our experts will help you create a plan to delegate your tasks and we will even train your VA for you.
If you know someone else who’d benefit from being a better delegator, share this post with them via email, Linkedin, Twitter, or Facebook.
About the Author: Bill is Prialto's senior content marketing manager and writes about the future of work and how businesses can be more productive and successful. His work has appeared in the World Economic Forum Agenda blog and CIO magazine.