Categorized | Down to Business, Management

Time-stressed? Learn to delegate

By Suzanne K. Lemen

Most managers complain about their lack of time. They work long hours and are under relentlessdelegate stress. The recession has exacerbated the problem: They are working longer and harder than at any other time in their careers.

The problem is further compounded if you are a small business owner, because when you own your own business, you often feel that you have to do everything yourself. But do you? Granted, you may do it all yourself because:

• You like to do it. It gives you satisfaction to see the finished product;

• It’s easier. You don’t have to explain or teach—both of which take time and patience;

• It’s faster. Because you are skilled at doing the task, you get it done quickly. If you were to hand off the task to someone who is less skilled, that person would take more time;

• You get it done right. Because of your skill, you can do the task right the first time, unlike someone who must learn how to do it.

All of these reasons may be legitimate, but unless you learn to delegate, keeping everything to yourself will eventually inhibit the growth of your business. You need time to focus on important strategies like business development and strategic partnerships. And your employees need to learn new things and feel as if they are progressing in their development. Delegation accomplishes all these things.

Because delegation is so important—to your sanity as well as to the life and success of your business—it’s important to identify what you should be delegating. Essentially, the tasks to be delegated are those that are not the best use of your time or those that require skills and knowledge you do not have. In the business lifecycle, needs change. To be successful, a business owner must be able to adapt and give up tasks to others. If your business has hit a plateau, this may be the reason.

Identify tasks to delegate

Delegation should be a well thought-out process—not a “dumping ground” of grunt work.

• Understand how you use your time. Write down what you do for a week, a day, or even a few hours. Do these activities support the strategies and goals of your business? Are you spending time on tasks that others should be doing?

• Identify your special skills. As you review your list, you may find items only you can do. Code them accordingly.

• Label tasks that can be delegated. What do you currently do yourself that could be delegated in a nine-week time period? You will be surprised at how many things you do out of habit and not for any strategic reason. If someone else can do the task, label it for delegation. (And if you find some tasks no longer serve a viable purpose, eliminate them.)

Why nine weeks? This period gives the employee to whom you delegate a sufficient amount of time to learn and practice the task. It also gives you a sufficient amount of time to accept that you don’t have to do it yourself.

How to delegate

Effective delegation requires seven steps.

1. Define and prioritize responsibilities. What is the task to be delegated? What are the tasks that need to be completed? Break down large activities into all of the steps.

2. Identify to whom you should delegate. Who is capable of handling this new responsibility? Consider current workload and qualifications (skills, knowledge, and experience). Employees feel empowered and valued when they take on new responsibilities.

3. Teach. If the employee does not currently have the skills or has never done the task, teach him or her how to do it. Work with the individual until you are comfortable he or she has developed the skill set.

3. Assign, and set a deadline. When must the task be completed? Ask the employee for input on the length of time to complete the task and provide guidance.

4. Establish checkpoints. Plan a timeline to check on progress and coach/counsel the employee on progress. Keep to the schedule

5. Provide authority. Don’t micromanage the delegated task. Give the employee authority to be successful even if the steps aren’t exactly the same ones that you would use.

6. Turn over ownership. While you may provide advice and counsel, let the employee “own” the task. It is tempting to get involved and “take back” the task when there are challenges. However, you don’t “own” it anymore so resist that temptation.

7. Reward accomplishment. Be immediate and specific with your feedback. Make sure you assign credit appropriately to your employee.

Finally, once you have delegated a task, don’t take it back. Instead, keep reviewing your own workload to see what else you can give away. You, your employees, and your organization will all benefit.

lemen1,smallSuzanne K. Lemen, SPHR is CEO of Dynamic Corporate Solutions, Inc., a human resources consulting company which she has led for the past 18 years. She also owns Orange Park-based Idea Staffing. She can be contacted at or 904-278-5383.

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