One of the biggest obstacles to growth in a small business arises when the owner is unwilling to delegate. At a certain point, a successful business becomes too large and too complex for one person to manage, regardless of how smart, industrious and passionate that individual is. And while on an intellectual level business owners know when the time has come to loosen their grip, they still have a hard time putting that idea into action. Here are four things to consider that will make delegating an easier pill to swallow:
1. Mistakes Won’t Kill You
Attention to detail is a good quality in any business, but when it turns into perfectionism, an intolerance or fear of any error whatsoever, this good quality becomes an enormous handicap.
Owners are sometimes reluctant to delegate because they fear others are more likely to make mistakes. They don’t know the business as well. They don’t care as much. They aren’t as smart. But even if this is true, the only way to gain experience and smarts and passion is to have responsibility.
Very few mistakes are fatal to a business. Very few are irreversible. In fact, many mistakes can be turned into opportunities and every one of them can be a teaching moment. This is the mindset an owner must have in order to delegate comfortably – along with doing a few other things that we will touch on now.
2. Put a System of Checks in Place
Delegation is not an all-or-nothing proposition. For instance, an owner should not completely disengage from the purchasing function simply because he or she has appointed a purchasing manager. This approach has gotten a lot of potentially successful businesses in a great deal of trouble. Instead, the owner should put in place an organized system of regular reviews and spot checks to ensure that work is being executed properly and diligently.
For a manager to get into perfect alignment with an owner—to understand how he or she thinks and what is expected in terms of creativity, initiative and results—can take months or even years. Without regular interactions with the owner over time, any manager is being set up for failure, and by the time the failure is recognized, it may be too late for the manager and the business.
The art of being the owner of a midsized business involves transitioning from managing all of the details to directing all of the details by managing only a few of them. When an owner has this skill there are no limits to how large the business can grow or how successful it becomes.
3. Invest in Training
The smartest of the smart owners surround themselves with people who are even smarter. Moreover, such owners are continuously seeking ways to make their management teams even smarter, with outside training programs, internal mentoring programs, cross-training and scores of other approaches.
If a newly appointed manager is working at “C” efficiency on day one, this is a minor concern. However, if the manager is working at “C” efficiency six months into the job, then this is a serious problem and one that may have been solved—and may still be solved—through training.
4. Delegate to the Right People
Training is not always the answer, because lack of training is not always the problem. Many owners are comfortable delegating only to people they trust which, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Many times, though, the person to whom they entrust an important part of the business lacks the background, skills and raw talent to fill the role adequately.
Trust is certainly a big part of the delegation equation, but business qualifications must also be given a great deal of weight. To prevent putting square pegs into round holes, establish a clear set of qualifications for the position before considering any candidate, no matter how loyal.
The Real Fear
Reflecting on these ideas, it may be apparent that what is to be feared is not delegation but, rather, delegation without tolerance for error, without review, without training and without a sensible hiring/internal promotion strategy. This latter situation is indeed something to be feared -- but is entirely avoidable for owners who recognize the pitfalls of a poorly organized approach to building a management team.
Rather than dwell on the (avoidable) downsides of delegation, owners can happily consider its many upsides. When a strong management team is in place, owners gain more time to interact with customers and suppliers, think about the big picture, develop new ideas to make the business thrive, and even take some well-deserved vacation time. All of these activities—even the vacation— serve to make a business prosper year in and year out.
Brad Shorr is the B2B Marketing Director of straightnorth.com, a digital marketing agency near Chicago. With agency and freelance experience, he writes frequently about business and marketing strategy.