The Do’s and Don’ts of Delegation

Article by:
Mike Stopforth EO South Africa – Johannesburg
Mike Stopforth
EO South Africa – Johannesburg

I don’t claim to be an expert on entrepreneurship or management, but having run a business for six years, I’ve learned a few lessons that have helped me grow into a stronger and more successful entrepreneur. One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn is how to delegate properly. It’s something that’s difficult to do when you’re used to being the guy who does it all, but it’s an important step in taking your business and staff from good to great.

In my experience, many entrepreneurs start off not wanting to delegate anything to anyone around them (let’s put them in category one), and I’m convinced that this is one of the biggest reasons why the majority of startups fail early on. “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” is the war cry of those who adore their product or service, yet cannot conceive of anybody doing as great a job as them. Often, there are very good reasons for this lone-ranger approach, but I’m convinced you’re doing yourself and your customers a disservice if you go at it alone.

The second type of entrepreneur I come in contact with is one who has realized the value of delegation, but will only outsource tasks to people whom they know can do a better job than them (category two). There’s no risk involved, yet there’s no room for growth either. By focusing only on select staff, you’re preventing your entire team—and your company—from fully maturing. Your challenge, if you fit into category one, is to find people you can trust and start moving responsibilities over to them so that you can graduate to category two. If you’re in category two, your goal is to use a wider delegation net and reach out to other employees capable of contributing.

In the end, the goal is to get to category three, where you’re also delegating tasks to people who you know full well can’t do a better job than you (but you have to be OK with that). This can be an enormous risk, but it’s one you have to take in order to start working on your business instead of always working in it. While I’m not going to give a priority RFP to a new intern or send a junior account executive into a sales pitch with a CEO,
I will delegate to those who still want to prove themselves. It’s tough, but it’s worth it if I want to grow my team and adopt a more high-level look at my business. Here are some other tips that have helped me delegate more effectively:

  • Clearly Define the Task: I’ve gotten pretty good at outsourcing tasks, but remain very bad at defining them. A clear brief to your colleagues and employees is half the battle won. A clear brief also helps you think through the project— some- thing we as entrepreneurs seldom do well.
  • Check in Often: This doesn’t mean you have to micro-man- age people (I hate micro-management), but keep regular tabs on your employee’s progress, equip them with the tools they need to excel and connect them with the right resources to make successful completion easier.
  • Debrief Failure: If for whatever reason your staff member or colleague fails—which will happen in the beginning—spend some time debriefing them to ensure that lessons are learned and errors aren’t repeated. The alternative—ignoring, ostracizing or neglecting them—will prevent your staff and your business from growing.
  • Reward Success: When your bet pays off, reward the responsible person with bigger tasks. Keep pushing them because their success will be addictive and you’ll want to leverage that. Before you know it, you’ll have a bunch of success-hungry people driving your company!

All in all, I’ve discovered a variety of benefits associated with delegation. Not only will you have more time to assess the state of your business, but your staff will become more autonomous; the wrong people will leave your organization (a benefit of delegation done correctly); you’ll establish a powerful management layer allowing your business to succeed despite you; and, as I’ve experienced on several occasions, you’ll renew your faith in mankind. No one said delegation is easy, but it’s a challenge that’s well worth it in the end.

Mike Stopforth (pictured) is the founder and CEO of Cerebra, an integrated communications agency that builds, engages and activates communities around brands. Fun fact: According to the law of averages, Mike has about 14,000 days left on the planet, and is bent on making the most of all of them.

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