Management Matters: The What and How of Delegation

Growth. Expansion. These are dream words for any entrepreneur. Anyone who starts a business hopes that they will get a chance to deal with the challenges that come with growing their business. So, let us say you are an ecommerce entrepreneur who is dealing with an expanding business and has reached the point of having a team of people working for you. You know what you have to do – delegate!

You soon realize that delegation is a challenging matter. It is not simply a matter of having a team but figuring out what to do with your team. There are two parts to good delegation – figuring out how to delegate and deciding what to delegate.

Here are some of the basics worth keeping in mind for successful delegation:

Work with People’s Strengths: Choose the right person for the right job. A numbers person cannot be your customer service representative.  The right person is more likely to embrace their role and this definitely is a critical part of the success of delegation. As an entrepreneur be open to the idea that a person who is good fit for a delegated position may well find their own way to optimize the process, even if it may mean that they do things differently!

Establish Written Processes: Create written processes so that there is clarity in defining roles. It is also a good way to make your employees engaged in the bigger picture. We all work better when we understand what we are contributing. It helps to feel like something more than a mere cog in a wheel. It is also a good way to avoid the trap of incomplete delegation.

Prepare Trainee: Make sure your processes allow for back-ups. Everything can’t come to a grinding halt, if your inventory person is out for a few days. There has to be a seamless arrangement which allows team members to step into other shoes when necessary. It is bad preparation to have a business be heavily reliant on one individual.

Plan for a Learning Curve: “If failure is not an option, then neither is success.” It is important to keep this Seth Godin quote front and center when setting up your systems for delegation. You have to understand that when you trust others to do something you have done for a long time, there is the chance that things will not go perfectly the first time. Make an assessment of the things that fail – make the distinction between human error and critical failures and moderate responses accordingly. Keep in mind that delegation goes hand-in-hand with mentoring and teaching. (We’ll cover mentoring next week.)

Create Metrics for Accomplishment: One of the strange realities of life is that measuring something makes it matter more. When you set benchmarks for accomplishment, you create targets and goals that can motivate your employees. It allows them to aspire towards something and makes your feedback more meaningful than arbitrary conversation.

Now, the other question many business people struggle with is what to delegate. If you started your own business and have been doing everything from website design to accounting single-handedly, it is hard to decide what you can hand off. One useful guideline that I have heard is that it is good to keep a work journal for a couple of weeks and make note of everything you do in the course of your work day. Make it a point to write things down as you do them as summarizing at the end of the day will not serve the same purpose.  Over a couple of weeks you should be able to see patterns in your work day/week. Here are the things that you should look for:

  • Repetitive tasks that need to be done periodically.
  • Tasks that you do not enjoy and feel that you may not have the best skill sets to ace.
  • Tasks that do not require your direct direction.
  • Time-consuming tasks that can be segmented.

This can be the starting point for thinking of your work day in terms of defined tasks and then you can decide what you can comfortable hand off to someone else. Keep in mind that in the early stages it is best not to hand off active financial responsibility or critical-decision making to new team members.

Delegation can be the boon that can make your work life significantly less stressful.  By taking a systematic approach to delegation, you can make sure that there is nothing hit-or-miss about the success of your delegation!


Written by: Shirley Tan


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