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How to Let Go and Delegate Without Losing Creative Control

How-to

Business owners often assume that delegating means giving up control of both day-to-day operations and brand identity. However, effective delegation is actually vital to creating, maintaining and growing a successful business. In this post, we explain how to delegate tasks effectively so both you and your team can meet the development needs of your business. We also examine why entrepreneurs struggle to let go and assign authority to trusted employees. Here are thirteen key ways business owners can empower employees, allocate decision-making authority and delegate effectively.

Why Is it So Hard for Business Owners to Delegate?

Each entrepreneur invests an incredible amount of time, energy and resources in his or her business – especially in the early years. During this time, each founder defines the values, mission and brand identity of his or her business. After enjoying total creative control for so many years, it can be difficult for entrepreneurs to let go and delegate as their business grows.

According to Martin Zwilling in “Most Entrepreneurs Fail to Delegate Productively” for Business Insider, a surprisingly small share of business owners delegate well. Zwilling writes that “only 30 percent of managers think they can delegate well.” Of that 30%, “only one in three is considered a good delegator by his or her subordinates.” Sabina Nawaz elaborates in her article “You’re Delegating. It’s Not Working. Here’s Why.” for Harvard Business Review. Nawaz notes that “despite hiring bright minds and able hands, managers often find themselves overburdened and overloaded with tasks.” But why is it so hard for business owners to delegate? Some business owners worry their brand will be compromised or that their employees will perform tasks in a substandard manner. Others fear overloading their employees with too much work or not having enough time to train those workers properly. Still others harbor resentment – concerned that they will lose credit for the business’ success as employees gain authority. Whatever the reason business owners struggle to delegate, they must eventually put their fears aside. They must trust employees to complete each delegated task they have been hired to fulfill.

13 Key Ways Business Owners Can Delegate Without Losing Creative Control

1. Get Rid of the Guilt

First on our list of ways business owners can delegate without losing creative control is to get rid of the guilt they feel. Guilt over “not doing it all” is especially common amongst female business owners. Researchers Modupe Akinola, Ashley Martin and Katherine Y. Phillips came to this conclusion in a 2018 study published in the Academy of Management Journal. According to Akinola, Martin and Phillips, “women imbue delegation with more agentic traits, have more negative associations with delegating.” In general, women “feel greater guilt about delegating than men.” Because they feel guilty about delegating, “women delegate less than men.” This – however inadvertent – can stunt their business success.

To delegate well as a female founder, Ashima Sharma and Katie Irving recommend letting guilt go. They explain in the article “How to delegate tasks effectively and in a way that feels comfortable” for Business Insider. Three other female business leaders also contributed to this article. Sharma – who founded the mentorship platform Dreami – notes that she “‘used to believe that [she] had to handle everything.’” If she did not, she could not “‘prove to others what [she] was capable of.’” To Sharma, “delegating was a sign that I wasn’t capable enough.” Eventually she realized that the business was suffering because she was trying to do everything on her own.

If you are still feeling guilt over delegating, Katie Irving recommends “‘think[ing] about the cost of delegation as an investment in yourself.’” By delegating to others, “‘you’re freeing up mental space to focus on the bold ideas that will shape the future of your business.’” As Irving puts it, “‘the magic happens when you give yourself permission to get out of the weeds.’” Try to let the guilt go and allow others to contribute.

2. Remember that Delegating is Necessary for Growth

Next, business owners must remember that delegating is necessary for growth. As Quint Studer puts it in an article for the Pensacola News Journal, delegation is “smart resource management.” Delegating not only takes pressure off you to do what you are best at. It also gives your employees confidence and helps them grow within the business. Those who are more skilled in certain areas will take on jobs that propel the business forward. Studer writes that delegating well “allows others in the organization to become more valuable and to get engaged on a deeper level.” Giving your team members more responsibility can aid in employee retention and satisfaction.

Business Does Better When Bosses Delegate

Plus, businesses with leaders who delegate responsibility effectively typically perform better than those who do not. According to a 2014 study conducted by Gallup, CEOs with delegation skills boast better business performance in terms of revenue and growth. The study compared the talent profiles of more than a hundred CEOs on Inc’s 500 List. It found that “those with high Delegator talent posted an average three-year growth rate of 1,751%.”

Those with effective delegators at the helm had a “112 percentage points greater” growth rate. In addition, CEOs who delegated effectively “generated 33% greater revenue in 2013 than those with low or limited levels of the talent.” They created more jobs on average than the CEOs who could not delegate effectively.

3. Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Third, business owners should identify their strengths and weaknesses before starting the delegation process. Assuming you can “do it all” as well as someone who specializes in one area of the business is usually hubris. Unfortunately, that “jack-of-all trades” mindset can eventually harm the business. The truth is that there are elements of the business you excel at and others you either dread or perform poorly. As you list tasks, you might notice a few things you neglect because you do not know how to approach them. Acknowledging that you have both strengths and weaknesses is key to becoming an effective delegator.

Similarly, business owners should play to their employees’ strengths when delegating tasks. By choosing the right tasks for the right person, your employees will enjoy professional development, and you will become an effective leader. When business owners hand over tasks to others without considering each employee’s strengths and weaknesses, they experience what experts call “the boomerang effect.”

A Strengths-Based Approach Helps Business Owners Avoid the Boomerang Effect When Delegating

In her article “How to Delegate the Right Way” for The Wall Street Journal, Joann S. Lublin explains. She provides an example of the boomerang effect. To do so, Lublin turns to Deloitte Consulting Principal Joni Swedlund. Swedlund fell prey to the boomerang effect while working at Deloitte. She tended to “assign staffers ‘anything remotely related to their area of expertise.’” More often than not, the assignment would return to her unfinished. Finally, Swedlund “decided to spend time delegating based on her employees’ strengths and weaknesses.”

As Gwen Moran puts it in an article for Fast Company, “successful delegation requires matching the job…with the best possible person.” Successful delegation is not “offloading your grunt work onto the nearest possible bystander.” If you understand your employees’ strengths when delegating, each task will be completed effectively and efficiently.

4. Define the Scope of Authority When Delegating

Fourth on our list of ways to maintain control while you delegate is to define the scope of authority when assigning tasks. In her article “How to Improve Your Leadership Skills” for Investopedia, Alexandra Yan explains. Yan writes that “establishing clarity of roles, responsibilities, and deadlines is critical to delegating and getting a project completed.”

After outlining the level of authority and assigning a task, avoid micromanaging for best results. As Yan notes in her article for Investopedia, “a successful leader won’t micromanage.” This is because they trust their employees’ ability to complete the task and their own ability to communicate the parameters of that task.

5. Standardize or Automate First

Certain tasks could be easily automated. In his article “Why Entrepreneurs Struggle Delegating to Remote Teams” for Entrepreneur, Jeff J Hunter calls these “repetitive tasks.” One of the first steps in delegating effectively is to identify repetitive tasks. Next, you must work with your team to either standardize or automate those tasks. Not only with standardizing or automating these repetitive tasks limit your workload. It will also keep branding and other communications consistent.

6. Start Small

First and foremost, delegating is a skill business owners must learn. It is not automatic and for many, delegating takes time as well as trial and error. Before you begin delegating, take inventory of all the tasks you would like to offload and all the employees available to complete those tasks. Assign an employee to each task on your list. Then, Dr. Marty Nemko Ph.D. recommends conducting a small experiment to get started.

In his article “The Art of Delegating” for Psychology Today, Dr. Nemko suggests picking one task and one employee on your list. Keep in mind that he or she “needn’t yet do it as quickly or as well as you would—you can’t do everything.” The goal of this experiment is to assess how much you and the organization would benefit “from delegating that task to that person.” If the experiment goes well, assign similar tasks to that employee in the future. If it fails, discuss alternative options.

7. Realize that Delegation is NOT an Act of Aggression

As mentioned briefly above, certain business owners view delegation as “telling other people what to do.” Some – typically female business owners – even consider delegating tasks to other workers as “an act of aggression.” In her article “Women Are Less Likely to Delegate Than Men” for The Wall Street Journal, Michelle Ma explains. Referencing a study from Columbia Business School, Ma writes that “women are more likely than men to view delegation as aggressive and assertive.”

Of course, there is a reason why female business leaders might shy away from delegating and other authoritative conduct. Earlier research suggests “that women are judged more harshly than men for assertive, stereotypically male behavior like negotiating salaries.” Just as business owners should not feel guilty about delegating, neither should they feel aggressive, rude nor overly assertive.

8. Keep Lines of Communication Open

Next, we recommend keeping the lines of communication open both during the project and after the project is completed. In their article “Delegating: A Huge Management Challenge for Entrepreneurs” for Gallup, Sangeeta Bharadwaj Badal and Bryant Ott explain. They write that “delegators communicate frequently with employees,” but they do not micromanage or check in every few minutes.

Instead, effective delegators “provide feedback about what works and what doesn’t, and they recognize employees for a job well done.” Part of keeping the lines of communication open means accepting and incorporating feedback from employees too. By giving and receiving feedback, business owners foster “an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect” when they delegate tasks.

9. Arm Your Employees with a Brand Deck

Providing brand guidelines before you delegate work ensures consistency from task to task, employee to employee and location to location. In “Goal of Brand Guidelines” for The Houston Chronicle, Ian Linton explains how brand guidelines help deliver desired results when business owners delegate. Linton writes that brand guidelines “provide a comprehensive manual for anyone who uses your brand.” This list includes “employees, channel partners, designers and marketing agencies.”

A great brand deck explains how “to achieve business objectives and [provides] practical instructions on how to use brand elements consistently.” Basically, brand guidelines answer employee questions before they take those questions to you or other managers. This eliminates unnecessary pauses in workflow.

10. Don’t Fall Prey to the “Urgency Effect”

We already explained why business owners should try to avoid the boomerang effect, but they should also try to avoid the urgency effect. The urgency effect is when your brain seeks out quick and easy tasks. You could delegate those tasks but choose not to because completing these tasks provides a sense of accomplishment. In his article “Why Your Brain Tricks You Into Doing Less Important Tasks” for The New York Times, Tim Herrera explains in further detail. According to Herrera, “our brains tend to prioritize immediate satisfaction over long-term rewards.”

Performing “smaller-but-urgent tasks that had a deadline” instead of time-consuming tasks is more appealing for this very reason. Herrera writes that “important tasks are more difficult and further away from goal completion [but] urgent tasks involve more immediate and certain payoffs.” To avoid putting off important projects only you can complete, Herrera suggests “slicing up [these projects] into tiny goals to make them more manageable.” Hand off the smaller, more urgent tasks to employees instead!

11. Focus on Results Rather Than the Path to Those Results

As outlined above, each employee in your firm has a different skill set and a different range of talents. Chances are, this means that each employee approaches tasks in a different manner than you might. Part of being a successful delegator is to focus on results instead of the path to those results. In his article “5 Reasons That Entrepreneurs Fail to Delegate” for Inc., Martin Zwilling actually identifies this as “the golden rule of delegation.” As Zwilling writes, a business owner must “tell the delegate what needs to be achieved, rather than exactly how to get it done.” If you micromanage project progress every step along the way, you might as well complete the task yourself.

12. Accept That Minor Mistakes Might Happen

Whether you complete every single task yourself or assign the entire to-do list to your team, mistakes are bound to happen. In some ways, it is easier to accept your own mistakes than to accept those made by others in your company. When you make a mistake, you can retrace your steps and identify where you went wrong. You can then internalize the error and come up with a path forward. However, when a team member makes a mistake, it can feel like the company is spinning out of control. As Joyce M. Rosenberg writes in her article “Small-business owners struggle to delegate” for App., delegating can “be a psychological shock.” This is especially true “for entrepreneurs used to doing everything themselves.”

Quoting Greg Galant, Rosenberg writes that “‘you [might] feel like you are the business, and now you’re letting someone else do the business unchecked.’” Both Galant and Rosenberg acknowledge that mistakes are inevitable. A few small things might fall through the cracks. Still, Rosenberg and Galant define success as “‘being 85 percent right without [business owners] having to do all the work themselves.’”

13. Work on Communicating Your Goals to Team Members

Last on our list of ways to delegate without losing control to work on communicating your goals to other team members. Communicating effectively is arguably one of the most important steps to successful delegation. Those who are unwilling or unable to identify goals and key milestones for a project cannot expect their employees to produce the desired outcome. Writing for The BBC, Bryan Borzykowski notes many business owners avoid delegating because they cannot “properly articulate what the end result should look like.”

Poor delegators might also provide a dearth of information about the project’s parameters. Borzykowski writes that business leaders either “describe things in general statements or they don’t give enough detail about a project.” Some business owners also fail to define the “standard of work [they] expect” or to “put a timeline on a project.” They worry that delegating work in this way makes them seem like a control freak. Explicitly defining goals for a project is not disrespectful or harsh. On the contrary, properly explaining a project is a way of respecting your team’s time and energy.

We hope you enjoyed this post about how to delegate without losing creative control! Still have questions about how to delegate successfully? Ask us anything in the comments below!

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Laura Umansky

I'm Laura

As an inerior design business owner, I understand how challenging this industry can be and how hard it is to find success. For the past 15 years, I have grown my award-winning firm from a party of one (just me!) to a talented team of over 20, with two brick-and-mortar studios. And through it all I experienced set backs and the loneliness that comes with being an entrepreneur. That’s why I’m sharing all my tips and tricks on the blog. Success shouldn’t be a secret. Find your reliable path to sustainable, profitable growth right here.

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