Some all-star players never get to touch the ball. They’re ready and willing, hoping for a moment to show their skills, but it all depends on their leader. The quarterback has to make these decisions, sometimes very quickly. Are they ready? Do you trust them? Do they have what it takes to make a difference in the game?
Similar questions might go through your head as you think about delegating within your firm. You’ve put your heart and soul into your business, and it’s at the point where you need an extra pair (or two) of hands. But that’s not something you take lightly.
There are many reasons for delegating – and consequences for not doing so. Understanding both will get you started on the right track.
Looking over the heads of his players at the line, the quarterback has a unique perspective. More than anyone in that moment, he can see how far they are down the field and how the opposing team is arranged. While everyone else thinks about their individual objectives, the QB has to think strategy and long game while also focusing on the play at hand.
As an advisor – the quarterback of your firm – you have to think about the vision and direction at the same time you’re on the field.
Done well, delegation frees you to cast your long-term vision and do the higher level work of client relationships. Just as the quarterback can’t run every play himself, so you need to pass and hand off the ball so you can focus on the game strategy and get further down the field by letting your team carry some of the weight, too.
In founding and running my own firm, and also as a Carson coach, I’ve seen many times where delegation creates an invested team. If your stakeholders are valued for their input and allowed to participate in the work, they can catch your vision and make it their own.
The greatest test of your business is this: Is it still standing after you’re gone? Delegation is a way to prepare for the future, putting competent people in place to carry the torch when you retire. It lets them learn leadership through on-the-job training and hands-on support.
What If I Don’t Delegate?
I’ve seen the downside of this as well – leaving your all-star players under-used and trying to play the whole game yourself. Besides the obvious exhaustion, there are more subtle and far-reaching consequences to being the firm “ball hog” – trying to do everything from client relationships to back-office support on your own.
You can become myopic
If you’re the only one floating ideas and you never ask anyone else for feedback (or that feedback is never taken), then your firm will stagnate. Confidently delegating can create an atmosphere that’s safe for feedback and communication, and this means sometimes letting stakeholders do things in their own style. The fresh energy and ideas will be worth it.
You can become resentful.
Some owners end up resenting their team members, and even the business itself. As a Carson coach, I’ve often heard the complaint, “No one cares as much as I do.” If you don’t delegate, you end up doing the lion’s share of the work, and if you’re not looking at that reflectively, you begin to think you’re the only one who cares. Resentment soon follows.
Investing in the Right Person
Delegating is a front-loaded decision. Your first investment should be in the time and attention it takes to find the right person for the job. It shouldn’t be done on the fly, and shouldn’t be done by sheer gut impulse.
Here are a few characteristics I’ve found that mark the best stakeholders for delegation:
- Willing – Is this person energized by being included in the process?
- Able – Can they do it, or are they willing to learn how? Note: This isn’t the same as you believing they should be able to do what you assign them, rather that they actually possess the skill and energy.
- Dependable – Can they be trusted to get this done and to openly communicate with you about what’s getting done?
- Confident (enough) – Are they making reasonable decisions and proactive, but not arrogant?
Choosing the right person means watching them in play for a while. Remember, this is your call, so you’re also responsible for this person’s performance. The characteristics above aren’t something you pick up on right away, so time invested in observation will be worth it.
It’s also important to set the rules of engagement early on. From the start, inform the stakeholder of the latitude you’re allowing them and provide clear boundaries.
Tell them you will need regular, honest progress reports. Tell them they are free to make decisions but to inform you if these impact financials and/or staff, or bring unintended consequences. Tell them you are always available for questions, but you want them to make their own conclusions. Overall: tell them – communication is key.
The OBWO Approach
Once you’ve found the right person and have a plan for communicating clear boundaries, it’s time to begin. There are several ways to delegate, of course, but this is one easy-to-remember strategy that I’ve found helpful.
- O – State Objective: “I want to achieve this; I want to solve this.”
- B – Tell your Backstory: “Here’s how I arrived at this decision.”
- W – Explain Why: “I want to do this because…; it’s important to us because…”
- O – Describe Outcome: “Here’s what I imagine the outcome will look like.”
The “OBWO Approach” helps you remember the right steps to start the delegation process, from giving context (backstory) to explaining vision (why). This creates the big picture – an orientation they need to do the work well.
Neither Carrot nor Stick
You also need to check your own motivations for delegation. Why do you have the impulse to pass on a certain task or account? Are you thinking about the vision for the firm with your decision? Are you only handing off tasks you don’t want to do, or delegating meaningful assignments that will have lasting impact? Knowing your own motives will help you avoid a decision you may regret down the road.
Delegation doesn’t make a very good carrot or a very good stick. Delegation as a carrot – giving extra responsibilities and opportunities as a token of appreciation or a personal favor – doesn’t take everything into account. The stakeholder’s skill set and motivations are ignored in this scenario, and the carrot is often an emotional decision that doesn’t regard the full context of the situation.
At the same rate, delegation isn’t a stick. While the carrot is a promised reward to get a horse moving, the stick is used as discipline to keep it going. Delegation puts more on someone else’s plate. If they were already overwhelmed or uninspired already, delegation is not the answer. Adding more to the workload of an underperforming employee will likely just frustrate you and them.
Block Intentional Time
Do you have time in your week specifically set aside for a particular business practice? Many successful business people have time set aside for scheduling, goal-setting, generating ideas or reading industry news – but do you have a specific time set aside for planning delegation?
Setting aside 15 minutes or half an hour a week to plan your approach will help you make wise decisions that carry a purpose. Think about who you’re watching as a possible candidate and how they’ve shown you passion for the firm’s vision and goals.
Think of it this way: Jon Doe is an active and vocal member of the workplace, but he is also easily distracted and leaves early regularly. Meanwhile, Jane Doe works quietly and doesn’t speak up as often during team meetings, but she recently went to a conference on her own time and brought in $10 million in AUM last quarter. That makes Jane the obvious choice, though the evidence supporting her isn’t always as easy to see in the midst of the noise and chaos of the office.
How Do You Know if You’ve Delegated Well?
Even before they put points on the board – or have any major misses – you should watch for indicators of your stakeholder’s performance. You can lose precious time and money if the person doesn’t take to your choice and coaching the way you’d hoped.
Healthy delegation means the stakeholder is regularly returning with clear, substantial progress reports of what’s going on. During your initial discussion, agree on a schedule of regular updates and the form of those updates. Will it be a weekly phone call or maybe biweekly one-on-one? Set the bar high for these, as they will save you more grief in the long run.
Of course, the other indicator of successful delegation is that the work is getting done. Are the accounts going up, are the losses going down, and are new clients walking through the door?
What if delegation doesn’t work out and the stakeholder doesn’t produce the desired results?
First, I recommend creating a safe, truthful atmosphere. Admit your own shortcomings in the situation. You should lead with yourself: “As a manager, I want to put you where your gifts are best used” or “I’m not sure I made the right call matching this duty with your skill set.” This is a great place to start as it shows you’re willing to put some of the blame on yourself and judging their performance fairly.
This is also where your initial work with the stakeholder comes in. You should refer to the quarterly goals or regular progress reports that you agreed on. This gives you strong data to rely on and provides tangible proof of shortcomings.
Ideally, this will become an opportunity to offer the stakeholder another initiative – and your continued mentorship. Use it as a learning experience that you can both build on instead of shutting out the stakeholder altogether.
Practice Makes Perfect
Delegation, like any other skill, takes time to perfect. It’s a trial-and-error, high-stakes process. You need to give yourself time to hone your ability.
Remember, while you’re not doing the work when you delegate, you are guiding the work. By choosing the right candidate, setting clear expectations from the start and watching for progress (especially at first), your stakeholders will improve and self-regulate over time – and appreciate the trust you’ve put in them.
But it all begins with the decision to pass the ball.