What, When & How to Delegate

In this article I’m going to look at some ways in which you can minimise the chances of falling into the traps of micro-managing and begin to delegate effectively.

You’ve got the “chutzpah”, the passion that’s got you this far, but have recognised the need to delegate some of your activities and responsibilities so you can grow your business whilst maintaining your sanity! You want help, and accept that you need to let go, but you still need to be in control.

Help can be found, but there is no magic button and it will require some work and time out of the business on your part. Quite a common response we get is “of course I’m overwhelmed and drowning and need help, and I really don’t have time to step away and look at all of this, and in any case it’s far too complicated for anyone else to pick up. I thought that you were going to help me?” This is where the first change in mindset is needed.

We all tend to think that our situation is unique, that no-one else faces the same challenges and that it’s all far too complicated and would take too much time to explain the issues to anyone. We resist being helped. We all do it to some extent. We become too invested in our systems and ways of doing things and this can lead to getting bogged down – this applies to you and your business. A bit of flexible thinking is required.

The truth is that everything we do can be broken down into a series of processes – they may not be efficient at the moment and they may not be well defined but they are there. The trick is to be able to identify them and determine whether or not they are needed and how they contribute to the end goal. Only then can you really be in a position to look at the individual tasks that need to be outsourced. After all, as we have said, you need to provide your VA with clear tasks and they need to be able to contribute to the business and understand how what they are doing actually contributes. The process mapping exercise achieves this.

What and when
OK, so, we’ve a clearer idea of the various processes that run our business, what we now need to do is to determine what parts to delegate and when. Remember, our objective for delegation is really to achieve a win-win for you and your business and whoever has been given the various tasks. Clearly, not everything can or should be delegated, so here are a few initial questions which you should consider:

Firstly, is this task business critical? I know, all tasks are critical but you know what I’m getting at here, and if the process mapping was carried out effectively you should have a better idea of the really critical aspects of the business. If the task is business critical then it does not necessarily mean that the task should not be delegated, but it does require more thought. Not only because of the obvious impact but also because of the amount of your involvement that you’ll feel will inevitably be required, whether justified or not. If the task is super critical then it will be hard to step away and let anyone else get on with it unless you know them very well and trust them implicitly. Of course, it could be a relatively straight forward task with clear desired outcomes and still be business critical. In this case you should still consider the impact if it takes longer than expected or needs to be revised. How much flexibility is there in the timescale?

Let’s continue with you having decided that the task could be done by someone else. There are another set of questions to consider:

  • Is the task truly self-contained, ie can you define what needs to be done, what outcomes you expect and the time-frame in which you expect it to be completed?
  • Can you clearly define the skill set required and any resources that would be needed?
  • Is it a task that will need to be repeated, maybe not exactly the same but a variant of it based on the same fundamentals?

If the answer to these is yes, or broadly yes but with some minor reservations then it may well be that a VA or similar would work.

We’ve now decided what can be delegated and can begin to search for the right person(s) whilst still bearing in mind the change in mindset and flexible thinking. Set realistic expectations. Maybe accept that getting the task done adequately rather than to perfection is a good place to start. Remember the well known 80:20 rule – you could waste a lot of time fine tuning something for negligible return. Of course common sense applies here too, but it’s worth trying to get into the mindset of getting things done and moving on.

We’ll be coming back to various aspects of this in future articles, but we cannot conclude without a few guidelines to try to adhere to when working with a VA to make things smoother for all concerned.

  • Communicate Often. When it comes to effective delegation, not only does communication need to be clear but it needs to be concise and consistent.
  • Schedule regular update sessions. Not only check on the project specifics, but recognise achievements and ask for any issues that may be frustrating your assistant.
  • Be accessible: Your VA may need to contact you for additional information or to clarify something – give them multiple ways to contact you.
  • Listen to your assistant and demonstrate that you have listened and understood. It’s very likely that after an initial settling period they will actually suggest some process improvements.
  • Check in from time to time, but be conscious of lapsing into micro managing.
  • Be patient. It may take some time for your assistant to get up to speed and, as has been said, they may do things slightly differently. Remember, differently is not necessarily wrong or inappropriate.
  • Give credit where due and is possible, share in rewards.

Clearly, once you begin to work with an assistant then over time your trust builds, they get to know the business and you can rely upon them more, and you will develop a way of working that works for you both. However, until you get to that point and bear the above points in mind and you stand a good chance of forming a long term and mutually beneficial working relationship.

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