delegation skills small business owner

A common theme among developing business owners is that they know they can grow their business and they want to grow their business, but they are not sure how. 

Where is the roadmap that tells what to do and when so that a business can prosper? 

The truth is, there isn’t one—but finding tools and developing skills that increase efficiency is one of the keys to ensuring that you’re on the right path with growing your business. 

Learning effective delegation skills is a great place to start. 

When your business is small but growing, you and your team probably find yourselves doing a little of everything. But there are probably some things that take a ton of time that you just feel like you have to do yourself. 

Until you can feel confident letting other people on your team take over some of your specific responsibilities, you can’t scale your impact. Increasing efficiency often means trusting other people to carry some of the load. That’s not always easy to do, but it’s an important part of scaling up. 

“I feel like delegation is one of the biggest things that you have to be able to do,” says Kimm Esser, executive director of Adoptions Northwest Inc., a non-profit adoption agency, located in Springfield and serving all of Oregon. 

“There’s no way I could manage everything that I do in a day if I tried to do it all. It really is about understanding your team and what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, and how you can best help them accomplish their goal once you’ve delegated it.”

Top delegation skills to help your business grow faster

To be an effective delegator, it pays to put some infrastructure in place. Your team will benefit from tools and systems that are designed to increase transparency and make it easier to collaborate. Here’s how to get started. 

1. Be organized

One of the keys to success with delegating is staying organized. You, as the person delegating, need to be organized so you can remember what you delegated!

Even though you’re not doing the work, it’s not going to be effective if you’re losing oversight of what’s getting done, or who is doing it. 

Employees can’t be successful if you haven’t thought out the task you’re asking them to do, or if the expectations keep changing. Take the time before you delegate to map out exactly what you’re asking for. 

“Delegation requires organization,” Esser says. “You have to be organized. You have to be able to stay ahead of what should be happening and when. Otherwise, it will get away from your team members and from you.”

If your delegating happens in an in-person meeting, you will likely follow up with an email confirmation. Likewise, confirmation of the delegated task will likely happen via email. Using a catchall email tool—a shared inbox—makes it a lot easier to delegate. A good collaborative inbox solution will let you assign messages to specific people on your team—or even set up automatic routing rules so you don’t have to be as hands-on with every message. 

2. Develop some check-in and reporting processes

Along the way, your team will want to be sure they’re on the right track. Be clear on your timelines, and give them a way to check in with you to track progress, or get help if they are stuck. Managers who delegate well track results early and often, and adjust as needed. 

Reporting, whether it’s filling out a timeline or spreadsheet or having an email check-in, ensures accountability. Your employees will be happier doing their jobs if they have a way to communicate with you about the status of what they’re working on. This also prevents you from having to deal with unpleasant surprises if the work doesn’t go as planned. 

Project management tools like Basecamp can make it easier to keep all aspects of a project contained in one place and transparent to all stakeholders, but it’s possible to set up reporting processes through weekly metrics reports that your team fills in, or even through a basic 1:1 meeting with your team members each week. However, you decide to handle the reporting or check-in piece, work with your team to decide on a process, and commit to following it. 

3. Use some time-saving tools

Templates and checklists are key tools for delegation. Checklists, such as this one that tackle the task of cleaning a temporary rental property after guests have left, help ensure that nothing is forgotten or neglected. 

Email templates can also be a helpful resource when you’re spreading customer communication responsibilities among your team members.  

4. Empower your team

Unhappy customers are more likely to tell others about their experiences than happy customers are. In fact, Inc. reports that unhappy people are likely to tell nine to 15 others. Not only that, but 86 percent of customers quit doing business with a company because of a negative customer experience.

When someone has an issue, an empowered customer service team can make a decision without having to transfer the customer to another department, or introduce delays while they seek approval to resolve an issue. 

Whether you’re dealing with customers or not, an empowered team is a happier team, and will usually be able to handle setbacks on their own. Having a sense of ownership and an understanding of the types of decisions they can make on their own will go a long way to producing better, more efficient work. 

But don’t just hand your team the responsibility without training them. Make sure you’ve done the legwork of ensuring that they have the resources and training to get it right. Throwing them into the deep end without a clear sense of the parameters for making decisions and the indicators of success or failure—this approach will generate a lot of stress, and potentially even distrust. Don’t just hand over the responsibility and walk away. 

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5. Decide what to delegate

First, assess your own tasks so that you can decide what tasks are fair game for delegation. 

What are you spending time on that requires your specific skill set? 

What can others be trained to do that would lighten your load and allow you to focus on the things you’re best at and most qualified to tackle? 

What are the skills and aptitudes your team already brings to the table? What are the skill gaps?

Esser says she has a philosophy that she’s unwilling to delegate tasks that she hasn’t done herself or that she won’t do. 

“When I bring a new team member on, it’s really important to me to make sure that they see me doing whatever task it is that I’m asking them to do, even if it is menial. I think you have to build that trust. They have to want you to succeed before they’ll want to do whatever it is that you delegate to them.” 

In other words, get buy-in from your team by delegating the right tasks to the right people, and you’ll be much more likely to get the results you want.

6. Delegate to the right people

Delegating doesn’t simply mean telling someone to do something that you don’t want to or are too busy to do yourself. 

Effective delegation means delegating tasks to the right people. That means knowing your team’s personalities and their strengths and preferences. Consider the employees’ workloads, so you’re not giving someone more work than they can handle. 

While you can and should consider the employees’ skill levels, delegating can also be a way to help your team develop new skills. 

7. Be clear in your expectations

Managers who delegate well are able to give clear directions about what needs to be done, what the goals are, and when it needs to be completed. 

Provide as many details as you can and any background information that would be helpful for them to know. Don’t forget to provide any resources such as access or passwords that the person will need to complete their work.

8. Set reminders for yourself, and help your team meet deadlines

First, effectively communicate any deadlines or expectations for completing all or part of the task. Then, be sure to set a meeting time to review and discuss progress, provide feedback and support your team member or adjust the priorities if required.

Give the person to whom you are giving a task a reasonable amount of time to do a good job. Also, give them a reasonable amount of time to respond on their own to any obstacles that come up, so you’re not feeling like you need to “micromanage.”

Esser says she has a team member who she needs to nudge along by ensuring that she has the information she needs to gather from other people at appropriate points along the way to accomplish a task. “I have it set up to give her gentle reminders, that for instance, she should have so and so’s information by now,” Esser says. “It’s a really small thing that I have to think about, but it helps her stay focused and get it done.”

Rather than just not allocating this team member any new tasks, she is able to be part of the contributing team with little nudges to stay on track. “She understands that my reminder to her is to help her, not to condemn her, and she actually appreciates that we do it that way,” Esser says. 

9. Develop a feedback loop

It’s never a good idea to hand off a project or task and then disappear from the discussion. If you’re delegating to someone new, don’t assume that they will reach out to you when they need to.

In the timeline you developed at the outset, you can build in checkpoints when the other person knows you will check in with them to see how things are going.

Those checkpoints are a great time to have a conversation about what’s going well, what obstacles might have turned up, and if the task is on track to be completed as expected. If there is any sort of issue, the sooner you catch it the better, and the employee will likely be happier knowing they can turn to you for guidance and support. 

10. Acknowledge a job well done

Once the task is completed, take the time to acknowledge a job well done. If the employees had any problems or unexpected issues, give them an opportunity to provide any feedback, and brainstorm ways to improve processes in the future. 

If the templates or checklists that you developed need to be updated, do that now so that the resources are in place for the next round of project delegation. 

Delegation is an essential part of good leadership. Done well, it helps you access the “expert in the room” on your team so that your team is able to specialize in doing the work they’re best at. 

Find what methods work for you

Try a few of these suggestions, and see how your team responds. Look for ways to improve your communication skills, as well as the processes you’ve put in place as you go. Listen closely to feedback from your team. They might be nervous to tell you what isn’t working as well as it could be, so create (safe) opportunities for them to tell you how they might improve things. Good luck!

AvatarVanessa Salvia

Vanessa Salvia is an experienced writer and marketing strategist who enjoys helping businesses and the people who run them learn, grow, and succeed. See more of her work at Sage Media and Marketing.