Startup founders often struggle to become effective delegators. It’s a natural byproduct of the startup process: When getting a new business off the ground, founders usually fill every role in the operation.
They learn how to be expert administrators, part-time customer service representatives, event planners, and may periodically show up in the mailroom to fill a last-minute order.
But while that strong sense of self-reliance is a benefit to making a startup a reality, it also leads to habits that can damage the company’s future. Beyond wearing you down and taking your precious free time, the propensity to do everything yourself may be damaging employee morale and decreasing your operation’s overall effectiveness.
Learning how to delegate effectively will improve your company culture, boost your brand’s productivity, and eventually give you back that mysterious space known as “free time.”
If you’re worried that you may not be able to break those habits easily, there’s good news. Effective delegation is seldom “natural.” Delegation is a learnable skill like any other: You can hone it through a lot of practice, a little luck, and a willingness to let go.
Whether your enterprise is among 2017’s newcomers to watch or plans to be there in 2018, the strategies below can make delegation easier for you and more effective for your business.
Make Hiring Choices Carefully
Before you can become an effective delegator, you need to have an effective group of team members to delegate to. That all starts during the hiring process. Too often, startups become accustomed to a breakneck pace of operation and carry out their hiring process the same way. But avoid choosing the first candidate who is available and willing – it’s not enough to have an extra set of hands for putting out fires; you need the right set of hands.
Thus, unlike every other aspect of your startup, take your time with hiring and proceed cautiously. Evaluate candidates carefully, devoting the additional time, energy, and money that a full vetting requires. When you hold out for the right person and wait to hire until you’re confident in the candidate, you’ll find delegation a lot easier in the long run.
With that said, take care not to hire the cheapest candidate, either. Hiring based on competency, which often comes with a higher price tag, will make trust easier down the road.
Trust Your Employees
The benefit of having been so picky during the hiring process and probably having hired for a higher salary than you wanted is the knowledge that your team is made of experts. So when you feel the unnerving sense of anxiety when it comes time to delegate, remind yourself why you hired them in the first place. You hired them because you trusted them.
And if that’s not enough to curb your inner panic, consider their performance so far. Has anything significant happened since you hired them that would cause you to trust them less? If yes, it may be time to start looking for a new hire. If not, however, it’s likely a reflection of your own struggle to let go rather than their ability to perform. Trust your team and if you don’t, hire a team you will.
Still Touch Base
While trusting your hiring choices and employees is at the foundation of your ability to delegate, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check in with them afterward. Once you’ve delegated a task, it’s reasonable – and responsible – to touch base with your employees and ensure that the task is proceeding to specifications. Additionally, some employees, particularly those who are still new within your organization, may be intimidated by the prospect of bringing up concerns with you. By approaching them first and opening the dialogue about any problems they may encounter, your employees may be more willing to open up.
That said; limit the amount of time you spend touching base with your employees. If an assignment calls for consistent updates and your employees are aware of this, they will update you as developments unfold. Insisting on regularly scheduled daily meetings about a project interrupts time that your employees could spend working on said project; it also forces them to provide extraneous information for the sake of having an update to give.
As a rule of thumb, if you’re checking in for the sake of curbing your anxiety, you’re probably pressing past the line of concerned superior and firmly headed into micromanagement territory.
If you want your delegation to result in less work for you, it’s better to do it early rather than wait.
In other words, two hours before a deadline is exactly the wrong time to start delegating. A better time to begin delegation is when you receive that deadline. This allows your employees the time they need to fully understand the project and ask questions while allowing you the chance to see if they’ll be able to carry out the task on their own.
Set Realistic Expectations
Setting realistic expectations is a requirement for both employee and employer. When you’re assessing your schedule and deciding what, or if, you should delegate, be realistic about what you can and cannot do. If you know that you can’t resist micromanaging one project because of personal involvement or priority, don’t assign someone to take over in your place. Instead, have them work alongside you.
This also applies to deadlines. While you may be able to carry an extraordinarily tight deadline with grace, your employee is unlikely to be as experienced as you are and will need more leniency. Giving someone an impossible deadline won’t produce the work you want faster or make your business more productive. It will lead to further work and revisions down the line.
Build Diverse Skillsets
Startups often operate with the bare minimum staff they need to produce. But while your staff pool may be limited, that doesn’t have to be a limiting factor for your operation. When you’re hiring, look for candidates who add to your skill pool in some way.
After hiring, continue to develop the skills of your employees. Doing so early on will allow you to become familiar with each employee’s strengths and weaknesses as well as cultivate a diverse skill pool for you to utilize during different assignments.
Understand Individual’s Strengths and Weaknesses
While you may be a jack-of-all-trades, your employees most likely aren’t, and getting to know their individual talents will make delegation easier for you in the future. For example, if you know that one employee excels with technical explanations but has a hard time turning that into sales, while another employee is a fantastic salesman if he or she doesn’t have to explain the product’s nooks and crannies, you would know not to assign the first with sales or the second with technical documentation.
Take the time to assess every team member’s strengths and weaknesses to make your delegation more effective and your startup more successful.
It’s your startup, so it’s your baby; handing over control can be a challenge. When your business takes off, however, you won’t be able to handle every aspect of it on your own. Learn to delegate today to ensure burnout stays at bay.