I recently spoke at Denver Startup Week about how delegation can help entrepreneurs and leaders of all kinds be more efficient. From the awesome feedback I received afterward, this topic obviously struck a chord for business owners and so I'm sharing the value!
Why is delegation so important to getting more done?
Time is your most precious resource, because it is fixed. If you want to deliver more value than you can provide alone, you need delegates to help. When you delegate work that you would have previously done by yourself, you are increasing your productivity in several ways:
- You are able to focus your strengths on delivering high-value items - faster!
- You can deliver more value - in the same amount of time!
- You have more time to use, in the way you choose!
Realize you can't do everything alone.
Even if your to-do list is relatively short, it's likely that you won't have enough time to accomplish all of the items as new information comes to light. Most people see this as a reshuffling of priorities, those "little favors" or "urgent" requests that sneak in prevent you from checking off the items on the list with which you started your day.
Do you do the administrative planning, accounting, hiring, marketing, sales, and legal work yourself? In addition to finding innovative ways of increasing the value of your product or service? WOW! Now, how many of those things are you an expert at?
- There are so many subject matter experts in the world that can help you complete operational items on your task list - and do it more efficiently than you - that it's wasteful for you to spend time on those items instead of improving your products.
When you try to do all of the things on your list, you typically have to switch between tasks if you're not focused on completing each item. The result is that you suffer a huge loss in efficiency, starting with 20% of your time when you juggle just two tasks simultaneously. Read more about the studies summarized by the American Psychological Association.
- If you’re lucky enough to have just a 40 hour workweek, context switching costs you a FULL DAY EACH WEEK OF LOST TIME!!! Think of all the extra value you could create in your business if you had eight extra hours every week!
- Not only do you lose time, but interruptions can wreck your train of thought, which means possibly losing the innovative idea that was just at the forefront of your mind. That's value you may never get back.
Not everything is important enough to deserve your time.
You're in business because you have a unique idea or way of delivering value to your customers. That's your vision - why your business matters.
- Your time is best invested in working on items that contribute directly to your vision, and the administration of your business functions can derail you from delivering real value.
Have you thought about prioritizing your task list by the value realized when each item is complete? Take a cue from product development experts, and stack rank your to-do list by value.
- They keep their backlog of requests and initiatives prioritized by business need, then work from top to bottom in order to realize the most value quickly. Prioritize your work in the same way, and you'll see happier customers that are able to use your new product or service sooner.
How do you know what's important?
You alone decide the things that are important, but a simple framework can help you define them. When you know what's important, future decisions will take less time. Simon Sinek calls this the "golden circle." Know each of these well, and you have the set of things that are important to you!
- Your Vision - Why your business matters
- Your Principles - How your business functions
- Your Product - What you create and sell
Put every decision into a value-based frame of mind, and you'll quickly find that prioritization is easier.
Here is a simple, but extremely useful formula that you can use daily in prioritizing your tasks:
Importance X Urgency = Value
Remember this equation, and you can easily compare items that pop-up on your task list to see where the most value lies.
- It's critical that you quantify the value, using either dollars or a numerical scale, so you don't end up with everything as just a "High" value rank.
Apply Strength to Value
You are a unique individual, and your strengths are a combination of personality, experience, and viewpoint. When you work within your areas of strength, work gets done better and more efficiently. Knowing what your strengths are allows you to quickly identify where you should apply your time.
- For instance, if you are a great software developer that has founded your company on a new app, you’re going to see far more value in producing new features than you are in creating marketing graphics for a new ad.
For each task on your list, look at what strength(s) it will take to deliver the end result.
- If the work is in your domain of expertise, it should be assigned to yourself.
- If it's something you're not as good at as others, it should be delegated!
I have created a graph that helps you quickly decide how to deal with each task:
Notice that there are four areas, and I've made the axes as Strength vs. Value (Importance X Urgency). Plot your task on this chart, and your delegation decision is made for you!
- High Value & Strength - DO IT! This is where you want to be investing all of your time.
- High Value & Non-Strength - DELEGATE IT! These are time-wasting tasks for you, because there are experts that can deliver faster and cheaper than you can.
- Low Value & Strength - FINISH IT! Just because you are great at a given task doesn't mean you have to do it - or have time to do it. Let a delegate deliver 80% or more of the task, and use a small amount of time to apply your "Magic Touch" to the last 20%.
- Low Value & Non-Strength - SKIP IT! Yes, it’s OK to not do everything. If there is little value in something and it doesn’t fall into your realm of strength means that you shouldn’t invest your time in doing it - or pay for others to do it, either.
Who Can I Delegate To?
You know what you should be focused on, but who can help you deliver on that long task list? For startups and entrepreneurs, it's more complicated than just asking your team. You need to leverage your network and resources to find the answers.
- Established organizations should identify the strengths of existing employees and align their project work with your vision.
- If strength gaps exist, consider hiring or outsourcing for the skills to efficiently deliver value.
- Startups typically have more limited resources, and need the ability to change direction quickly.
- Look to your network for help. You can often find the type of talent you need for short-term projects from the startup community.
- Entrepreneurs, especially those "Solo-preneurs" who are a one-person business need to stretch their network size.
- Freelancers and other entrepreneurs are a great source of talent that you can easily tap. Online marketplaces like oDesk.com, eLance.com, Freelancer.com, & Guru.com allow you to post details of your project, find people across the world outside your existing network, and pay only for those services you need.
Regardless of the depth of your bank account, you can find ways of accomplishing more without having to spend dollars. In the world of small business, bartering is not only acceptable, but can be a great way to expand your customer base.
- Trade your services for those of a fellow entrepreneur, and you will both realize value delivery faster - and you should consider each other a new customer!
Delegating the Right Way
Your vision should translate into all of your work. This is called “alignment” - when daily work directly corresponds to your business objectives.
Nowhere is alignment more critical than when someone else is doing the daily work.
- If the delegate isn’t moving in the direction of your vision, it’s counter-productive for your business and costs you time and money - a poor investment, for sure!
- Being S.M.A.R.T.E.R. in how you delegate will create the alignment you need.
When you delegate, communicate a well-defined task by satisfying all of the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. qualifications and you'll have your success criteria established.
Combine frequent, honest communication with SMARTER task assignment, and you will also be able to quickly know if there is an alignment issue.
Trust is earned.
Learning to trust others is a difficult hurdle for anyone when delegating work. Luckily, there is a virtuous circle that lets you build a more efficient relationship. Start small, let trust be built through success, then increase the number of tasks within your comfort level.
- A huge benefit you will realize is that the more trust you have established, the less formal delegation becomes - which translates to increased efficiency.
- When your delegate shares your vision, you will have confidence they will deliver the most value possible.
Get Started Delegating
The biggest obstacle to realizing more value by delegating is in getting started. But, when you realize the increase in value production in delegating that first task, you will wonder why you didn’t do it sooner!
If you are unsure where to start, or need help with your delegation technique, try out a no-risk consultation session and learn how you can get more done.
What's your experience with delegating? Please share your comments and questions, so we can all learn together.
Troy Beyer is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations grow through the development and application of leadership abilities. He is the Founder of Beyer Consulting Group, LLC, a firm providing coaching, consulting, and learning experiences for leaders at all levels. Troy leverages over 15 years of Fortune 500 experience to help organizations of all sizes build cultures of learning that foster innovation and enable sustainable growth. Connect with Troy Beyer