The Art Of Delegation

Upfront disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an expert on entrepreneurship or management. Having said that, running Cerebra for six years (as of November) has taught me some great lessons about entrepreneurship, management and business strategy. I benefit immeasurably from the experience of fellow entrepreneurs and business bloggers and so I’m encouraged to share some of those lessons here. I’d welcome your feedback to these thoughts.

One of the toughest lessons for any entrepreneur to learn is that of delegation. Whether it be the delegation of tasks or responsibility, “handing over” is a challenge! It’s no different for managers in corporations or SMEs (it is my opinion that delegation is right up there as one of the key characteristics of effective managers in the business place.) Your ability to hand over responsibility with confidence could be the difference between success and failure – and not just your success or failure, that of your employees and colleagues too.

In my experience many entrepreneurs start off not wanting to delegate anything to anyone around them (Category One), and I’m convinced this is one of the biggest reasons why the majority of start-ups fail early on. “If you want something done right, do it yourself” is the war cry of those who adore their product or service and cannot conceive of anybody doing as good a job as them.

“Nobody can sell this like I can”

“Nobody can craft this product like I can”

“I don’t trust anybody else to do the work”

Sometimes there are very good reasons for this lone-rangerness. Perhaps you’ve been let down time after time, disappointed by non-delivery or even swindled by someone you trust. I can completely understand why you’d be reluctant to delegate. But I’m also convinced you’re doing yourself and your customers a great disservice.

The second type of entrepreneur I come into contact with (Category Two) has realised the value of delegation, but will only outsource tasks and operations to people who they know can do a better job than them. At Cerebra, for example, we’re lucky to have John Beale part of our team. I’m pretty good at strategic thinking, but not great at mapping strategic plans and documentation. John, however, is a strategy genius (one of the reasons why he won the Social Media Marketer of the Year Award at the Bookmarks) so it’s easy for me to delegate that part of our business to him. There’s no risk.

Even though there’s no risk, the very idea of delegating tasks is a massive challenge for many businessmen and women. So your challenge if you fit into Category One is to find people you can trust and start moving responsibility over to them so you can graduate to Category Two. It’s all about trust and all about maturity, but there’s no way for your senior members of staff to grow unless you give them the chance to.

The goal is to get to Category Three – where you regularly delegate tasks and responsibilities to people who you know full well can’t do a better job than you. This is an ENORMOUS risk, though. I’m not going to give a massive RFP to a brand new intern, or send a junior account executive into a sales pitch with a corporate CEO. So as in poker, the challenge is making safe bets, and laying down your hand when you know you’re behind.

Some tips for delegating when it’s risky:

  • Clearly define the task. I’ve gotten pretty good at outsourcing tasks but remain very bad at defining them. A clear brief to your colleagues and employees is half the battle won. A clear brief also helps you think through the project – something we as entrepreneurs seldom do well.
  • Check in often. This doesn’t mean you micro-manage (I hate micro-management), but keep regular tabs on the staff member’s progress, equip them and connect them with the right resources to make successful completion easier.
  • Debrief failure. If for whatever reason your staff member or colleague fails, spend time debriefing what happened with them to ensure that lessons are learned and not repeated. DO NOT ignore, ostracise or neglect them.
  • Reward success. When your bet pays off, reward the responsible person with bigger tasks. Keep pushing them, because their success with be addictive and you’ll want to leverage that.

So in summary, the benefits of effective delegation are:

  • You’ll have more time.
  • You’ll renew your faith in humankind.
  • Your people will grow astronomically.
  • The wrong people will leave your organisation.
  • You’ll establish a powerful management layer that will mean your business grows and succeeds despite you.

Lastly, on the subject of delegation, the title of this post is pretty crap. I’d love your thoughts on a better one?

[Update: @Darshana_V had suggested “The Art Of Delegation” as a title – much better and changed accordingly!]

  • Great post Mike. The guys in ‘ReWork’ describes an ideal situation where you hire great people that are ‘Managers of One’ and they have the freedom and responsibility to do great work. That is what I a would like to work towards!

    • I try and read ReWork at least once every 3 months. If I had to give advice on running a business, that book would be in the top 5 things I recommend.

    • mikestopforth

      Thanks for the comment Justinus. ReWork is spot-on – I love the idea of my managers having a sense of entrepreneurial control over their business units.

  • Byron Rode

    Title: Delegate, Wisely.

  • Darsh

    The Art of Delegation

  • Also just finished ReWork again together with the Lean Startup. Great article Mike!

  • Kirsty Bisset

    Fantastic, informative read. Having just started, I’m already falling into the Category One trap – you just can’t imagine handing your baby over, but I’m full aware that it’s crucial to business growth and success. Thanks, Mike.

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