Are You the Only One Who Can Do the Job? Tips and Tricks on Delegation for Startup Owners
Svetoslava Stoyanova is a personal growth coach who enjoys supporting entrepreneurs and professionals going through a business or career transition. Certified professional coach and NLP practitioner, she is a member of the International Coach Federation and accompanies business founders and corporate professionals in their unique journey to fulfillment.
Delegation is like parenting: others seem more successful, although you’re sure you are doing no worse than anyone else. And similarly to parenting, once you master that skill, it will rain down noteworthy benefits on you: it will help your team grow and thrive, it will scale up your business, and it will create time for you.
Coaching clients on time management and efficiency has helped me to discover three appropriate times for business owners to address the need to delegate:
- When it appears unnecessary because the business is still relatively new and the founders are running it themselves;
- When a company expands from two founders to two founders and a few employees;
- When the business has been running for a while and efficiency is lacking in the daily operations.
(Thinking) it’s not on the agenda
- Am I the only one who can do this the way it should be done?
- Is it important for me to monitor the whole process?
- Is this a matter of responsibility: my responsibility for my business?
- While delegating it, would I actually invest the same time as if I do it myself?
- Is this something that I wouldn’t pay my salary to an employee to complete it?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, this is an opportune time to play the “delegation” chorus in your head. It may well save years of futile efforts and help you focus on growing your business smartly, right now.
“To delegate doesn’t mean to abandon the business. Actually, this is the only way to bring business” was the inflection point of a coaching conversation with a client of mine. Being a solopreneur for five years has taught him that scaling up is not a solo-game. He has been managing a team of eight for almost a year now and attests that “assigning an important business task to an associate is not just about finding someone suitable for the work but calming yourself down that no one but you can do it the right way”.
No one can do it as well as I can
What my client identified at this point was that the controller was playing an active role as one of the saboteurs of accepting the need to delegate. We all have such saboteurs. The controller, for example, convinces us of the need to control and take charge. Other saboteurs, which are just stories that we tell ourselves, where we assume our thoughts are facts, include:
- Being judgemental – focusing on what is wrong with us and others rather than appreciating what is good. What story does it tell us? ‘Last time I gave a *team member* a sensitive assignment s/he didn’t complete it as I was expected and it was half-done. S/he is so irresponsible. And it is my fault that I entrusted the person with the task…’ Eventually, instead of carefully assessing what may have caused the team member not to complete the assignment, you conclude that sensitive projects should not be delegated.
- Hyper Vigilant – worrying all the time that something bad will happen and trying to prevent it at all cost. How does that sound? ‘If I allocate this project to *team member* and s/he screws it up, the deal with client “X” will fall through, then we will lose the client and maybe even more, because the CEO of client “X” is a friend to the CEO of client “Y”, and I know that our main competitor is just waiting for a chance to grab client “Y” from us…’ As a result, you become hesitant to assign important tasks to the team, thereby preventing your business (and staff) from growing and learning.
- Hyper Achiever – addicted to doing tasks by yourself being praised. Oftentimes, people who become managers or business owners were top performers who then graduated into management. What is the story behind that? ‘I want to do it myself and get the credit for it.’ As a manager, if you continue applying this attitude you then miss the bigger picture – managing people should benefit employees too. Being honest and clear about this strengthens the relationship with your team and you help them grow, by seeing how will they too can handle the business and become managers themselves one day.
It’s about time
Overcoming the hurdles to delegation starts with admitting them. Plamen Petrov, a popular Bulgarian broadcaster and author of business books explains why managers delay delegation: “It needs initial time investment, for which managers are not keen; it piles up possible mistakes; too much delegation can cause derailment in a business process.”
- When delegating a task, do I first go mentally through it myself?
- Before delegating to an employee, do I check what else is on their plate right now?
- If I delegate the ownership of the work and the responsibility, do I also delegate the ownership of the outcome?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, this is another opportune time to play the “delegation” chorus in your head.
Ivelina Atanasova – Genchev, founder of DigitalKidZ STEM Clubs and CEO of Newtrend Agency, a growth marketing and consulting agency operating in Bulgaria and the UK for over 15 years, says: “I realized that delegation is the only way for my business to grow and expand. What it takes is trust and I am firmly convinced that inner (self) confidence supports a manager to build a relationship of trust with employees.“ Before Covid-19 hit, Ivelina managed a team of 5 people and suggests a few steps to follow when approaching the process of delegation:
- Take the necessary time and attention to the selection process;
- Accept that sometimes there may be more than one right approach;
- Be prepared to make mistakes and always have a plan B.
Leon Gavalas, CEO of Bespot, an award-winning Greek startup that aims to improve the shopping experience, manages 14 professionals and plans to double this number in 2021. He is currently on a journey to the optimum way to delegate, between giving guidance and giving space to achieve the best results. “It is mandatory to delegate tasks and avoid micromanagement even when the team is still small. Delegation develops a culture of trust and assists in quick growth. Each team member should be a self-starter. Employees who take initiatives and are trusted bring value to the company and are more committed to its success. On the other hand, delegating without developing the critical skills of the team members and without giving guidance and vision – weekly or even daily, may result in demotivation.” Leon gives his two cents on how a novice CEO can improve their capacity to delegate:
- Accept that no one will do things, exactly the way you would. Start by delegating small tasks;
- Invest time early enough in developing your team and teaching skills;
- When you delegate for the first time, trust, but verify the status of progress before the delivery deadline.
Emna Everard, was named Entrepreneur of the Year in Belgium in 2019 and is CEO of KaziDomi, an e-commerce business for organic products. Emna is another entrepreneur who sees delegation as an opportunity for team growth. Having launched her business in 2016, she recalls her first holiday as a business owner where she communicated with her team a couple-of-times daily during the vacation week. When she got back to the office, her staff clearly pointed out that they had the intrusive feeling she didn’t trust them. This was her first and most important lesson on delegation, and obviously well learned because within four years her team grew from 3-4 to 50 people currently. “If you want to be there for your team, to find solutions, to show the way ahead, to recognize and develop your people, you need to take a step back, and to disburden yourself of the working load”, she advises. Giving her top 3 tips on ‘how to delegate successfully’, Emna is unequivocal in her message:
- Trust your people. If you do not trust your team, then either you have a problem with control or maybe you didn’t hire the right people;
- Understand that if you don’t take a step back you will never succeed. Give your people a chance to act – after ensuring that you are all on the same page about the vision for the business;
- You need to find your delegation formula because at some point you need to go on holiday and be able to disconnect leaving the team with both the work and the responsibility for the outcome.
“Delegation is a way to value my worth. I should stop ‘hiring’ myself for administrative tasks for which I wouldn’t pay my salary to someone else,” as summed up my coaching client introduced earlier. Delegation requires good communication, effective coordination, patience, trust, and maturity. It takes effort but it pays off because:
- It will help your team grow and thrive. Choose an area where your team needs improvement, delegate interesting and desired projects, challenge your people, and show trust.
- It will scale up your business. Maybe no one can do the job as you but you may be pleasantly surprised by people in your team. Start with aiming at what is accomplished, as Bill Gates advised. Once you take the administrative tasks off your list, you will be able to focus on the strategy with propelled efficiency.
- It will create time for you. Even if you don’t want to grow your business, and just want to have more spare time or time with your loved ones, you need to consider delegation as a way to respect your time and yourself.
Find your own formula on how to approach delegation by listening to both yourself and to your team. Before you instruct, ask for input. Before you judge, listen and think. As a parent needs to acknowledge that as children grow up they often have a better sense of what is best for them, the same principle applies to your business and your team.