What it really means to delegate

what it really means to delegate

Many business owners get stuck in a hub-and-spoke model of management where every task and decision must come through them.

As a result, you feel like you’re being pulled in 100 different directions.

I often describe this as being the only air traffic controller in the airport. If you so much as stop to use the washroom, the planes start crashing.

If you want a business that runs smoothly, profitably and (mostly) without you – you need to get good at delegating.

I first learned how to delegate when I was 22 or 23 years old – working as a store manager for men’s clothing retailer.

Watch the video to hear me tell the story – or scroll down to read.

YouTube video

Early in my career, I was a store manager at Tip Top.

We had maybe five full time employees and a bunch of part timers.

I assigned a section of the store to each of the full timers. This meant that one person would be in charge of the suit section, another would be in charge of sportscoats and pants, and someone else would be in charge of haberdashery – dress shirts and ties.

This is where a lot of business owners get delegation wrong

They either think they need to tell their people exactly what to do and how to do it (micro-managing.) This often leads to a feeling of “it would just be easier to do it all myself!”

Or they would provide no direction or guidance at all (abdication.) This often leads to “No one can do anything properly.”

Here’s what I did.

I went to them each Monday and asked “What do you need from me? What’s going on in the suit department? We have a sale going on this week – what help do you need from me and the other team members to get the suit department ready for the sale?”

That’s what puts them in charge. They take responsibility for their job. I make myself available to provide accountability and help them succeed.

Determining the right level of delegation

The right level of delegation varies based on the employee’s skill level and the context of the situation

Delegation isn’t about dumping authority.

It’s about assigning the appropriate level of delegation.

There are degrees of delegation.

At the lowest level, it looks like “Wait to be told. Do exactly what I say or follow these instructions precisely.”

When you go up a couple notches it might sound like: “Look into this. Tell me about the situation and we’ll decide together.” This was the level I mostly used in my Tip Top days.

Above that, it could be: “Let me know your decision, then wait for my go-ahead before proceeding.” If the suit department guy had been on the job for 2 years, we might be at this level of responsibility.

At the highest level, it’s: “Decide where action needs to be taken and manage accordingly. It’s your area of responsibility now.” Without proper training and coaching, this is abdication.

Pay attention to the context

The right level of delegation depends on the context.

Someone might be a “level 9” in a role they’re highly experienced in – but only a “level 3” when you move them somewhere else.

You can involve people in determining their level of delegation by showing them a chart and asking: “Where do you think you are on this scale?”

From there, you can have a mutual understanding.

The next step is to clarify your expectations by asking your employee to create an SOP (standard operating procedure) for the task you just assigned.

(I outlined how I do this with my VA in this article: how to onboard your VA.)

This meets several goals:

  1. You are certain that your employee knows how to do what you’ve assigned
  2. You can use it as a teaching tool
  3. You have the steps documented for future use – you can give it to someone new and they can follow the steps

Have you ever wondered how McDonald’s can get their French fries to taste the same in any location? When those fried are cooked by a 16-year-old whose parents can’t get them to clean their room?

It’s through SOPs! There’s a system and process that you can teach.

Delegation is one of the most important skills a leader can learn

Most business owners have never learned how to do it – so they end up as hub-and-spoke managers.

If you’d like some help learning this critical leadership skill, consider delegating your training to a business coach. 😉

I can help you speed up the process and avoid common pitfalls. To discuss coaching, book 15 minutes on my calendar here: Book a call with John

The Ultimate Guide to Scaling Your Business

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How to grow your business without sacrificing time freedom

This post is part of my Ultimate Guide to Scaling Your Business. Visit the guide homepage to get my best advice and coaching exercises to help you:

  • Develop systems and processes to free up your time
  • Hire and manage a great team to run your business (mostly) without you
  • Make the mindset changes that enable you to grow your business bigger - faster than you dreamed possible