Small business owners may often feel that because they bear ultimate responsibility for the fate of their venture, it is essential to be as hands-on as possible and control all decisions and activities.
This view may hold water particularly in the early stages of the business when the future is still uncertain (and in one-person operations where there is no one to delegate to). However, as the business grows and matures the ability to delegate becomes an essential management skill.
To delegate effectively, the small business owner needs to have confidence in the abilities of his or her team. This starts with hiring the best people for the job (e.g. in terms of work experience, educational qualifications, temperament), and then training them and creating a conducive working environment so that they can perform optimally.
Ideally, delegation should be gradual, with small business owners allowing employees to take responsibility for incrementally big projects or workstreams, instead of unexpectedly saddling employees with major tasks. Small business owners can use delegated tasks as opportunities to strengthen relationships with employees, creating an environment where the fear of failure is minimised so that employees can take real ownership. Small business owners who are not sure what they should be delegating can simply ask employees in which areas they would like more responsibility, and in which they would like more guidance and support from the small business owner or other employees.
The small business owner can then apply his or her mind to formulating a realistic action plan that takes into employees’ strengths and weaknesses, the potential risks to the business, procedures for monitoring and oversight, and the available resources. Although delegating does have its benefits, there are also some instances where it is not advisable or desirable.
Delegating should not be a coping strategy for scared small business owners to run away from difficult or uncomfortable situations, emerging only when the problems have been resolved or defused by others. Rather, small business owners should exhibit visible and active leadership, dealing with their own fears and insecurities in the process. When it is clear that the small business owner is the best person to do something (because of the skills or experience required, or because it is just too important to be dealt with by anyone else), delegating is pointless as no one else in the organisation can live up to the occasion.
Misguided attempts by small businesses to be humble and self-effacing by delegating can end up doing more harm than good. Projects that lack commitment and buy-in from others in the business should not be delegated as they will not be given the full attention and effort they require. Instead, small business owners should take it upon themselves to demonstrate that the idea is viable and benefits the business in some way.
When people have changed their minds and are no longer resistant, delegating becomes an option. Finally, where small business owners lack clarity in the own minds about what needs to be done, why, how and when, this is likely to translate into confusion on the part of whoever the task is delegated to.
Small business owners should wait until they have crystallised their thinking before delegating to avoid waste and frustration.