The Art of Delegation in a Small Business

delegating in small business

Delegation should be easy to do, or so you might think, however it can be very challenging in certain situations particularly for owners of small businesses.

As a business owner with a very small team, I have found it can be even harder to let go. It’s my baby.

As a control freak, I have often been advised to delegate more and stop doing the work myself. In leadership roles I understand that doing all of the work myself negates the need for a team at all, but find it hard to manage my emotions when delegated tasks don’t go to plan.

When I talk about employees, I am also talking about consultants and contractors you may engage to perform specific tasks that you would normally undertake.

Whether you have an existing team, or you are coming in as the leader of a new team in a startup, there are simple principles you can employ to make sure you develop a high performing team in your business.

Get to know your team

Getting to know your team is probably the most important thing to do. My suggestion would be to take each team member out for coffee/lunch, rather than a formal meeting in a meeting at work.

In order to set the right atmosphere for a conversation which allows you both to get to know each other a little better it’s important to be in a more social setting, (but not after work in the pub!)

During the discussion it’s a great idea to make sure it doesn’t feel like an interrogation. Asking a few general questions is fine but be wary of straying too much into the other persons private life or to put them unnecessarily on the spot.

A caveat to this method of building rapport is that if you have autistic or very shy personnel on your team, they may find the idea of going for a coffee and making small talk very difficult, and therefore might decline your offer.

If this happens an approach would be to reassure the team member that you are interested to find out how they prefer to work, what successes they have had in the past (so you can understand their strengths) and to understand what they hope to work towards, (their goals). Perhaps a meeting in a meeting room at work would make them feel more at ease as it’s a professional setting. Remember to smile and put them ease.

It’s very important to find out early on if someone would like to talk about themselves personally, or if they would prefer to speak about themselves as a worker instead.

It’s perfectly reasonable to ask people questions about the kind of things you might find on somebody’s CV. For example, whether they have traveled much, what kind of hobbies and interest’s they might have and whether they attended university and what that was like for them.

It might be that they were involved in an interesting project or thesis at university and you might enjoy talking to them about it. This will make the person feel valued and respected because you’re interested in something they spent time and effort on.

The psychology behind this is that hopefully they will appreciate that you care about them and the result of any work they do for you and that you have bothered to find out how they like to be rewarded.

This is just as relevant for temporary or contract staff as the more rapport you can build, the more each side will know, like and trust each other. It’s in their interests to play along as it might mean being kept on or repeat jobs.

Consultants, contractors and temp staff are also sometimes self-employed, so they really want to work with you.

Acknowledge effort

Rewarding and acknowledging employee’s efforts are frequently overlooked and assumption is often made that one type of reward fits all people. My experience is that the opposite is true; that there are many different ways of rewarding people and finding the right way makes all of the difference.

For example, someone who is more reserved and introvert might be delighted to receive a personal thank you card from you or the boss for recognition on a specific piece of work they have completed well. They would be mortified if they were asked to stand up in front of the rest of the team to receive a round of applause or a large gift.

Conversely, some people love the audience and would feel brilliant to get a public thank you. Some people are driven by money, so a £50 voucher could be what really floats their boat and makes them feel rewarded respected and thanked.

Develop your own self-awareness

As a team leader or manager one of the most important things you can do for your team to enable smooth delegation is to become self-aware.

If you can understand your communication and leadership style, and you know what kind of impact you have on the world, especially with your words (either written or spoken) then it’s a small leap of empathy to step into their shoes briefly and understand what they need from you to do a fantastic job when you delegate a task to them.

There are many routes to take to become more self-aware and I would urge any team leader or manager to seek out personal development opportunities as a constant growth model. This will change everything if you have an under-performing team with disinterested team members who you might feel you cannot delegate things to.

Cast your mind back to a time when you looked up to and respected somebody. It could have been a teacher perhaps that you liked at school; didn’t you find it easy to do the homework they asked you to do? I bet it was difficult to do homework for the teacher or teachers that you did not like. Am I right?

I’m not saying this has to be a popularity contest and that everyone has to like you, because that’s unreasonable and unlikely. What I am saying is that if there is mutual respect between the leader and a follower, then getting those tasks done becomes a lot easier.

Consider delegating smaller tasks first

The task is so big or important that you are reluctant to delegate it, perhaps you need to have a Plan B if can bring yourself to delegate it – or work closely with them to ensure you know milestones are being hit and the risks are reduced.

Perhaps you gave them a smaller task first to test their reliability and quality of work so that you feel more confident giving them something more important to complete. Give them a chance to earn your trust and respect.

Give clear instructions

Can you remember a time when somebody gave you some loose instructions and it was not clear at all what they wanted to do?

Maybe the outcome itself was not clear and they were busy trying to tell you how to do it but not what would happen at the end. Or perhaps they told you roughly what outcome they hoped for and gave you no direction on how to complete the task, it was left to you to figure it out.

Worse still you may have had to play email tennis with someone to clarify a number of aspects of the task because the initial request was so poorly worded, making one or both of you fed up.

If you are a brand-new leader/ business owner there is no shame in checking in with people to ensure that group understanding has been successfully reached prior to a task commencing.

You will make the task easier for the person to complete, you will have managed their expectations, and they will have managed yours in terms of volume of work, deadline agreed and quality of work desired.

When someone is really clear about what they want, and you can deliver it, it’s not difficult to take a leap and expect that person to be up for completing another task soon. This is because you’ve made it as painless as possible and rewarded them appropriately.

Act as a role model

It’s important for other members of the team to see you as a role model. If you are able to succeed in this, then delegating some of your tasks and work to your team will make them feel empowered; as though you are training them up to do your job as leader in the future.

Some people are not ambitious, but they still want to have the satisfaction of having completed objectives and tasks throughout the year so that they feel useful and valued.

What if someone thinks a task is beneath them?

Ambitious team members are usually easier to delegate to. However, watch out for the ones who believe that certain tasks are beneath them. There is a lesson here for them to learn.

As a leader you can demonstrate to them that there are no tasks too menial for the leader to take on. They must not allow their ego to get in the way when these tasks are needed. You can be a walking example to your team, and I would encourage it.

Handling the ‘never says no’ person

Be conscious of the “yes” person – with the great “Can-do” attitude but never says “no” and then gets overloaded and misses deadlines.

As the leader you can work closely with your staff to reassure them that they don’t need to say “yes” to everything. Sometimes “not now” is the best answer so you find someone to do the task who can take it on realistically.

The time spent invested in the art of delegation is time well spent. If you see it as an opportunity to free up time in the future, you won’t feel so bad about making the time to teach someone how to do something so you can let it go later.

Play the long game. You might feel overwhelmed at the moment but soon you will be able to breathe if you can effectively delegate and give the team members faith in your backing and support.

Don’t try to take the credit

One thing that I have personally witnessed and experienced several times is managers taking credit for their team member’s successes instead of making sure that the individuals who have completed the delegated tasks receive 100% of the credit.

Always remember that, as a leader, your success shines only through your team member’s success. If you claim all success and your team members receive no credit for their ideas or completed tasks, then you may risk losing your team as it will appear that you don’t really need them or use them.

Make space in your diary for value-add activities

As a leader you may be expected to be a thought leader in your business. To free up some valuable time for you to undertake thought leadership, personal development, managerial administration etc. you must delegate.

Make space in your calendar – and give your team permission to make space in their calendar for personal development. It’s not okay to assume they will undertake these activities in their own time.

In conclusion, don’t be afraid of delegation. It really can be your best friend. Your team may be much happier when they have tasks and projects to complete over and above the day-to-day workload. It’s an opportunity for you to give them thanks and praise for specific pieces of work.

Additionally, you are helping your team on their career path because when they are asked to evidence a completed a project or task, they will have something solid to show and you will be available to offer them a reference. Everyone’s a winner!

About the author

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Sam Warner, a member of Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches communication and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. With 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland, you can find your local club at www.toastmasters.org

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