Delegate (but keep the crown)

Research conducted by Voucher Cloud determined that the average office worker is only productive for two hours and 23 minutes each day. – Apollo Technical, 15 Employee Productivity Statistics You Want To Know (2021)

Out of an 8-hour day? That’s a startling statistic! 

With the primary causes of distractions being non-productive meetings and constant interruptions, it’s likely that you, as a business owner and leader, are also vulnerable to high levels of unproductivity. 

Which is not especially conducive to fulfilling your plans of building a sustainable business which works without you. Or, for that matter, achieving much of ANY of your dreams.

That’s why it is so important to implement clever habits and hacks that improve your daily productivity. 

What’s taking up our time? What’s distracting us from being productive? How can we plan our time better to free us up to focus on what’s going to make us money? What activities do we need to build into our diaries to ensure the best use of our time? 

Because frankly, being productive for less than 3 hours a day is self-limiting. And unnecessary.

One productivity hack that is often overlooked is delegation in the workplace. Implemented well, delegation allows leaders to find more time, to make space to spend more of their energy working strategically on the business, rather than on the day-to-day humdrum that keeps the cogs turning but doesn’t really move the business any further forward. 

But there is a fine line between abdication and delegation

Recently, I had a discussion with a client of mine around productivity and it sparked off a bit of a thought in my head around abdication versus delegation and reminded me of a story from when I was a young leader. 

I distinctly recall this story because it was when I learned the difference between abdicating your responsibility and delegating it. I also found out the hard way how each approach impacts the outcome of a task or objective. 

I had a pretty big project weighing on my shoulders at the time, which was to improve the food margin in the business where I was working. I think I had to find about one and a half percent. Now, it was a fairly large business so that small percentage increase translated into quite a large amount of money and was subsequently a lot of work.

I approached one of my team members (let’s call him John) with the problem. I sat down with this champion and said, “look, you know John, what I’d like you to do is just get out there and get the guys to rally around. Just get them to give me another one and a half percent of the food margin.” 

And John sort of looked at me like, ‘yeah okay, I’ll do that,’ and off he went. 

Successful delegation complete!

Well, it wasn’t until about six months down the line that I started wondering why the project was still weighing on my shoulders, not having yielded any results so far.  

That was also when I realised I had abdicated the responsibility, I hadn’t delegated it.  

Where I went wrong

What I mean by that, abdicating the responsibility to John, is that I failed to consider a lot of things when I passed that task onto him. If anything, I thought, ‘I’ve passed the task to John and I don’t need to worry. It’s no longer my problem. ‘And I was off doing other things.

That was the first mistake I made. Because what I had done, if I am honest, was I had devolved ownership of that task to somebody else, even while it was still overall my responsibility. But in my head, it wasn’t mine any longer because I’d given it to John.  

The second thing I failed to consider was skills. Did John have all the right skills to enable him to do that task successfully? If I had thought for a minute that John might not have been able to do the task successfully, I would have realised: 

  1. failure to complete this task could damage his self-confidence,
  2. it could negatively affect his sense of self-worth, and
  3. it could create quite a lot of stress because John’s being asked to do something by his boss or leader, and he’s not able to deliver. Naturally, at some point, I would eventually start asking questions about lack of progress, meaning extra stress for John. 

The third mistake was not taking the time to consider whether John was the right person to ask to do the task in the first place. Had I identified the person who was best qualified to assume that task and to be successful? 

Misguided abdications may feel great. Sure, they take the weight off your shoulders. However, for the employee you’ve abdicated the task to, they can cause a lot of anxiety. That person now has a heavy burden they cannot shift nor improve on. 

Once I fully understood effective delegation, I found I became even a more effective leader in many ways. I was certainly more effective in terms of (i) I had more time all of a sudden, and (ii) I was achieving results without having to do everything by myself.  

However, before all this, there was a big first step I’d had to take. I’d had to fully accept I needed to let go of some stuff. Not all stuff, but I had to let go of some stuff. And not just chuck it away. Let it go in such a way that I delegated the responsibility for carrying out the task whilst retaining responsibility for delivering the project. 

Stages of effective delegation 

Effective delegation starts with asking yourself three early questions: 

  • Who is the right person to delegate the objective to?
  • Does that person have all the skills required to do the task without any further support from you?
  • If the answer is no, then what are the skills and support the individual would need to fulfill the objective successfully?

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s onto the next stage of the process.

You must be quite clear with the individual you’re delegating to what it is you are delegating and what the desired outcome is. 

When I say clear, I mean really clear in terms of what the brief is and what you are asking of them. So, in John’s case, it wasn’t enough to demand an improvement of 1.5% on the food margin without talking him through why I was asking him to do it. I needed to also give him a why. 

When accepting increased responsibility, it is always more meaningful for employees to know why they, specifically, are the best person for the job. It would have prevented a lot of hardship if I had only sat down with John and taken the time to say something along the lines of: 

Look John, you know, this is a strategic focus because we have some big cost increases coming soon on the liquor side and we need to offset that by improving the food margin. We know there’s a gap in there, we know there is a small food margin to be had. You’re the right man for the job because you’ll go out there and you’ll just start coaching the guys and get under the skin of what’s going on in the kitchens to move this margin forward.” 

John now knows why he was chosen and why the task I’ve given him must come to fruition. 

Last part of the delegate, don’t abdicate puzzle  

The final part of the delegation jigsaw puzzle is around when. When are results expected, and how will progress be reviewed?

Back to the discussion with John:

Okay John, now that we understand what the task is and why you’ve got it, let’s look at when we are going to review the progress together. How about we review progress every three weeks because we need to achieve this by the end of the financial year? How does that work for you?”

John now knows the timeline he’s got to achieve the final result and he knows he’s going to be sitting down with me every three weeks to review where we’re going. All of a sudden John feels quite comfortable about the fact that he’s got added responsibility. He realises I’m not just passing the ball to him and running for the hills. I’m passing it to him because I believe he’s the right man for the job.

And I am retaining overall responsibility because I’m doing reviews with him all the way through the project. 

How to start to delegate effectively 

Start honing your leadership delegation skills by acknowledging you can’t do everything alone, that you have to let go of some things. Just make sure it’s the right things. 

When you look at your list of tasks, ask yourself, what are the things that need to be done but don’t need to be done by yourself? These are the first things you should either delegate or outsource. 

If you then delegate (not abdicate) these tasks effectively, you will free up three, four or even five hours a week that you can then work on your business. Hours that you can use growing sales, doing your marketing, meeting clients, whatever is going to generate income and profit for you and your business. 

If you would like to explore some more productivity hacks, why not read Daylight Savings, giver or taker of time or get in touch.