An introduction to getting better at delegating and giving your team autonomy
Many business owners like to control each and every aspect of their company. It's their baby, they may well have founded it, and even as it grows they feel like they need to be involved in the details.
There are several factors behind this desire to keep control. These include lack of trust in their team and the fear that if they delegate responsibility to others something will go wrong. There’s also a concern that explaining a new task to someone will be too time consuming.
On the other hand, studies show that delegating, and getting better at it, has many business benefits. According to a report by PwC, employees who feel they can act with autonomy tend to have stronger job performance, higher job satisfaction and greater commitment to the organisation.
Business owners and leaders also benefit by freeing themselves up from more routine tasks, so that they can focus on activities that add more value to the business, and avoiding burnout.
This guide explains the key factors involved in delegation, common mistakes business owners make and quick wins you can start implementing today. The next step will be to use our action plan to direct your change and improvement.
What factors influence your ability to delegate and give your team autonomy?
The size of the company
The smaller the company, the more likely it is that the business owner will be involved in every function of the business – and be more inclined to micro-manage. The sooner leaders grow out of this habit the more growth you can unlock.
Recognition of the benefits
Getting better at delegating and giving your team autonomy becomes easier when you have a firm grasp of the potential benefits:
- The business owner avoids burnout
- It frees up the business leader to work where they most add value
- Employees develop new confidence and skills
- Higher levels of job satisfaction and staff retention
- It encourage innovation and new approaches
“First of all, it just wasn’t physically possible to maintain that level of involvement as there weren’t enough hours in the day. On top of that, to achieve the goals I wanted to achieve, I needed to bring in some pretty specialist people – and if you want to attract the best people, they don’t work best under that level of control. So, I had to learn to adapt my business style and learn to trust.”
Karen McLellan, MD of the Hereford branch of Haines Watts
The cold hard facts
Research by human resources development consultancy H2H, which is cited by the Chartered Management Institute, found that 35 per cent of managers struggled with delegation and felt unable to let go of control.
Common mistakes business owners make when delegating
Failing to match the person or team with the task
Even though the person is willing, if they don’t have the right skill set, support or resources, it’s likely to lead to failure. This can cause issues with business performance and employee morale.
Paying lip service to autonomy or delegation
Some business leaders say they are delegating a task or giving more autonomy, however, they then have a tendency to keep interfering without giving the person or team sufficient time to work things out for themselves.
This undermines the confidence of those staff and creates the sense that you don’t fully trust them. Taking back tasks is particularly damaging.
Not communicating effectively with your team before you delegate a task can mean that people are unclear on what you want from them, setting them up for failure.
Leaving people to sink or swim
Interfering too much has its downsides, but leaving people to sink or swim without any support can also be risky and may result in the task not being carried out to a satisfactory standard.
When things do go wrong there may be a tendency to blame the person or the team, when the root cause may be something you’re responsible for, such as goal setting, training or resources. Where blame isn’t justified people will be reluctant to come forward again.
“The worst mistake a business owner or leader can make when delegating a task is to take credit for the work themselves once it is complete. Firstly, it alienates and demotivates the individual that took responsibility for the task in the first place and it portrays an image that the leadership of the organisation doesn’t value or celebrate the hard work of others.”
Markus Goess-Saurau, CEO of Sondskin
The cold hard facts
Quick wins for getting better at delegating
Start off small
Begin with small tasks and, based on how well the person does, build up to bigger and more complex activities.
Sell the benefits
If you want someone to take on a new task, sell the benefits. Explain how it could help them grow in their career or give them an opportunity to work on something they’re passionate about.
Changing job descriptions to reflect a person’s new responsibilities will give them a sense that this is something serious. Be prepared to have a discussion about salary too.
Offer relevant training
When delegating a task or giving a team more autonomy, make sure they have the right skills, knowledge and support. Perhaps training is required or they need to give up some of their work to make time for the new activity.
Change your mindset
Giving autonomy to people and teams means allowing them to do things differently. This requires a change of mindset by business leaders and an acceptance that with this freedom comes a greater risk of failure alongside the potential upside new approaches bring.
If things go well, make sure you give those involved full credit and highlight the success within the company.
Communication is key
Make sure both parties have a common understanding of the expected deliverables, timeframe and scope. Also, specify any expected milestones along the way and a framework for reporting progress.
Giving employees more freedom to do the job their way requires that they have a clear understanding of the organisation’s strategy and how the work they are doing fits in.
Adopt a “checking in” not a “checking on” approach
Constantly checking up on people undermines them, so adopt a checking-in approach instead. The way you phrase questions about progress can have a big impact. Asking broad questions, such as how something is going or whether they have the support they need, is better than jumping right into micromanagement.
Don’t throw an employee in at the deep end
You will improve the chances that delegating a task to someone will be successful if you don’t throw them in the deep end.
Let the person or the team know you have confidence in their ability to deliver, but at the same time reassure them that you are available to support them should they need it.
“Like most things in business, you’ve got to find time to sit down and explain to people what you want. I think I was quite young at the time and I was probably a bit impatient. I’ve come to realise that patience is very important when delegating tasks. You need to give people time to listen and also find time to answer questions about what you’ve asked them to do.”
Martin Port, founder and CEO of BigChange
The cold hard facts
Now you’ve learnt about the underlying factors that affect leaders' ability to delegate, use our action plan to direct your improvement efforts.