How to delegate when you’ve always done everything yourself

Your business is growing and you’ve taken on one or more additional staff members – but are you really maximising their skills and getting the best out of them?

Or, if you’re honest, do you find yourself still doing some of the things you employed them to do?

Perhaps you’re still running round like a headless chicken and yet they seem somewhat under-utilised…. or they are not doing things the way you want them done…. or they are busy doing ‘other things’ …. or you’re so frantic that it is just quicker to do it yourself at the moment…. one day you will sit down with them and show them what to do (but that time never comes, right?!)

Well, help is at hand!

3 Reasons why business owners find it difficult to delegate

Firstly, we have to assume that you have the ‘right people on the bus’ to use that old cliché. If you haven’t, then no amount of delegating will help you. Take appropriate action now.

In my experience, however, many entrepreneurs struggle to delegate for 3 key reasons:

1. Too busy ‘doing’

They haven’t freed up enough headspace to think about how best to delegate a particular task or project – because delegation needs to be PLANNED – and they’re too busy DOING!

2. ‘Nobody can do it as well as me’

They still believe that ‘nobody does this as well as I can’ so hold on to the task in hand (ah, the PERFECTIONIST (or is that control freak?!) entrepreneur!

3. Fear tackling bigger challenges

They hold on to the task or tasks in question because if they are busy doing that, they won’t have to face some of the bigger, more scary, challenges on the horizon (so it’s best just to ‘keep being busy’ thus putting off the moment when those scary things have to be tackled!)

Learning to delegate in 5 steps

If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. So here’s where to start;

Step 1. Allocate regular thinking time

Block off some time (an hour is fine as a starter for ten – maybe first thing on a Monday or first thing on a Tuesday – doesn’t really matter. Do it when you know you have the greatest capacity for clear thinking).

Make this time commitment each week so you can give some serious thought to how best to utilise your team. Once this becomes a habit you will be able to delegate all sorts of things using the framework below.

Step 2. Identify tasks that can be done by others

Write down everything that (in theory at least) could be done by another member of your team. (In other words, it’s not essential that you do it). Keep going back to your list and refining it.

One of my mentors used to say ‘never do anything yourself that somebody who is paid less than you could do.’ That should focus your thinking!

Now, it is quite likely that you’re thinking ‘nobody can do this as well as I can’. But if you take that view, then you will be doing this for the rest of your working life. So be clear on whether that is what you want for you and for your business in the future.

Step 3. Detail exactly what needs to be done

If you have a particular task or project you want to delegate, write down everything about the task that needs to be done; just freeflow your thoughts until you have considered everything. Involve other people if that helps. Structure comes later!

Step 4. Start with one

Choose one thing to delegate to one team member to start you off.

Step 5. Top and tail the task

Top and tail the task so that it has a clear beginning, clear end, and milestones in the middle so that you can explain the task in a logical way to your team member.

So, you’ve chosen the task…. You’ve chosen the person to delegate to….you’ve got an outline of what the task looks like….. Time to get going!

The Delegation Framework

I’ve found that the framework below is a good reminder of how to make delegation work for whatever task or project you are delegating:

  • Set time aside, somewhere you won’t be disturbed if possible, to outline the task or project. Make sure you both have sufficient time to do this (be clear whether you need half an hour or an hour – or whatever length of time you feel is appropriate).
  • Explain why you have chosen this team member for this particular task (assuming it’s not obvious, of course!)
  • Start with the end in mind – be clear on what success looks like and what deadlines there are
  • Be clear on what is non-negotiable if this project is to be successful and where the team member can be innovative or creative and find his or her own ways to succeed. Don’t expect them to know – they won’t!
  • Ask ‘what questions do you have so far’. And then shut up and listen. AVOID closed questions like ‘does that make sense’? And ‘is that clear?’
  • If the team member is worried about ‘getting it all done’ then ask ‘what needs to happen for you to be able to do this’? There will ALWAYS be a way around this.
  • Once you’ve agreed all the details, ask the team member to summarise back everything you have agreed so far. This will help you see if there have been any misunderstandings or if anything has been missed so that you can ‘course correct’. Don’t be tempted to do the summarising yourself. You want to test his or her understanding and the best way is for them to speak it out loud.
  • Don’t delegate and run. (That is abdication!). Often it helps to ask the team member to prepare an outline of how they will approach the task with milestones or deadlines on the way and any questions they have and come back to you with this in, say, a day or two.
  • Agree regular reviews but don’t micromanage. 5 minutes a day or 15 minutes a week may be all that you need for both of you to ensure that things are on track.
  • Give feedback on the work at each stage. What is great and what can be improved. But DON’T be tempted to change things yourself. If, for example, the report you have asked your team member to write is grammatically incorrect or some of the data is out of date – draw it to his attention and ask him to make the necessary changes rather than doing it yourself.
  • Do a final review to include what the team member did well and what he could improve next time.
  • Congratulate yourself and your team member on a job well done!

And think about what to delegate next!

This guide was written exclusively for ByteStart by International Executive and Leadership Team Coach, Lynn Scott, Director of Lynn Scott Coaching Ltd.

Last updated: 21st June, 2022

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