#092: The Single Biggest Reason Leaders Struggle with Delegation [Podcast]

Most leaders I know struggle with delegation. They know they should do it, but they just have trouble handing off their work. Why is that?

If you ask them, it’s usually some variation of this:

I don’t delegate because it takes longer to delegate the task than just do it myself.

Sound familiar?

The truth is, delegation always takes longer—the first couple of times you hand off a task. But it will save you hours, days, and weeks if you hand it off the right way. This requires creating a clearly documented, optimized workflow, and then training someone how to use it.

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In this episode I share four steps to take in transforming a workflow into a documented procedure. These steps apply to tasks you are currently doing yourself but know you need to delegate to someone else.

  1. Notice the workflow. Whenever you find yourself repeating the same workflow over and over again in the same way, you have a candidate for delegation. This could be anything from answering your phone, to filtering your e-mail, to updating your blog. It could literally be anything.

    For example, late last year I noticed I spent half a day a week editing my podcast, uploading it to my media server, and creating the “show notes.” Each time, I went through the same exact workflow. I realized I could save two full days a month if I could delegate this process.

    Action point: Identify one workflow you could delegate to someone else. (I’d start with something that is fairly simple.) Now calculate how much time you would save per month if you could successfully delegate this workflow. Extra credit: Calculate how much this time is worth.
  2. Optimize the workflow. Once you have the workflow identified, it is time to fine-tune it. You can do this by eliminating any unnecessary steps. Simplifying your tools can also help.

    You don’t want to put yourself in a position where you have to hire a genius (like you) to perform the procedure. Instead, use your genius to create a simple, reproducible procedure almost anyone could execute.

    Action point: Observe yourself in action next time you run through this workflow. Ask yourself, “What steps can I eliminate or modify in this process to make it easier for someone else to execute?” Extra credit: Explore whether or not there are better, easier-to-use tools.
  3. Document the workflow. This is the difference-maker. It’s where 95 percent of leaders fail. They expect their staff to read their mind and then wonder why no one can do the job as well as they can.

    Assume you are training someone with limited experience. Here’s what I do:

    • Choose the appropriate documentation tool. This could be a Google document, a note in Evernote, or an outline in OmniOutliner. I have used them all, but my favorite new tool is SweetProcess.
    • Write down the workflow as a series of sequential steps. Imagine you were explaining to someone what to do and waiting for them to complete each step before moving on.
    • Start each step with an action verb. For example, “open your e-mail program,” “create a request form,” or “upload the file to the LibSyn server.” These steps should look very similar to items on a to-do list. The person reading it should know when they have completed each step.
    • Use screenshots or screencasts to illustrate each step in the procedure. This can make your process much easier to follow and less error-prone. I use SnagIt for screenshots and ScreenFlow for screencasts. These both allow you to annotate the illustrations.
    • Test your own procedure by going through each step in a live setting. This is where the rubber meets the road. You want to make sure each step is clear and none is missing before you ask someone to implement it.

    Action point: Select a documentation tool. I recommend SweetProcess. You can get a free trial by clicking here. Extra credit: Quickly list each of the steps in the workflow you want to document.
  4. Share the workflow. Once you have tested the procedure and are reasonably confident you have identified all the appropriate steps, it is time to share it with your delegate.

    Treat this as a beta test. (Note: you’re not Moses and these aren’t the Ten Commandments.) Tell your delegate he will likely find mistakes or steps that aren’t clear. Ask him to help you make the procedure better.

    Personally, I don’t regard my workflows as sacred. They can always be improved. If my delegate can get to the same destination via a different route (assuming it is cheaper and more efficient), I am all for it.

    I would share the workflow with your delegate via a cloud-based tool that you can both access. This is why I like Google docs, Evernote, and, especially, SweetProcess. Here, for example, is a workflow I created called, “How to Prepare for a Skype Video Interview.”

    If you want to share it with a larger audience, you might even blog about it. I have done this several times. My WordPress Setup Screencast is a good example of a step-by-step procedure anyone can use to setup a self-hosted WordPress blog in 20 minutes or less.

    Action point: Share your workflow documentation with your delegate. Send him a link via e-mail. Ask him to work through it a couple of times and give you feedback. Extra credit: Share this post with him and encourage him to start documenting his own workflows. This will enable him to get his successor up to speed quickly.

Don’t think of your workflow documentation as a finished product. It is always a work in process. As you discover new tools and think of new insights, you will want to update it.

Yes, delegating something the first time does take more time and effort. You could do it faster and better yourself. But you simply don’t scale. If you want to take your organization—and your life—to the next level, you have to be willing to make the investment.

Listener Questions

  1. Jonathan asked, “What if I don’t have someone to delegate to?”
  2. Barish asked, “What are best practices in follow-up and accountability after a leader delegates a process or responsibility?”
  3. Misty asked, “What software do you use to track delegation?”
  4. Rob asked, “I want to delegate, but I just am not sure I can trust my subordinates to do the job right. What can I do?”
  5. Rebecca asked, “When do I know it’s time to delegate a task?”

Tip of the Week

Now let me leave you with one final tip. If you are struggling to get your work done, schedule appointments with yourself. Literally, put an appointment on your calendar. In their book, Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson call this time in the “alone zone.”

The great thing about this is when someone asks you to do something else during this time, you can legitimately say, “I’m sorry, but I already have a commitment then, what about …” I don’t go into more detail than that, because it is unnecessary. If you add more, it only sounds like you are making an excuse.

I honor these commitments to myself, just as I would to someone else. These appointments are critical in order for me to get my work done and make consistent, meaningful progress on my most important projects.

Special Announcements

  1. My business partner Ken Davis and I will be hosting the SCORRE Conference, May 5–8, 2014 at the beautiful Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, Florida. Whether you are a professional speaker—or just want to be—this conference will teach you how to prepare with focus, deliver with confidence, and speak with power.

    Honestly, this conference has had a bigger impact on my career than any conference I have ever attended. It revolutionized my speaking and his influenced every aspect of my communication, including my blogging and podcasting.

    If you are serious about becoming a better speaking, you simply must attend. However, we have less than twenty tickets left. This will sell out, so if you are interested in attending, you need to reserve your spot now. You can find out more by clicking here.

  2. If you have a question, comment, thought or concern, please leave me a voicemail:

    This is a terrific way to cross-promote your blog or website, because, if I use your question on the show, I will link to it.

Episode Resources

In this episode I mentioned several resources, including:

Show Transcript

You can download a complete, word-for-word transcript of this episode here, courtesy of Ginger Schell, a professional transcriptionist, who handles all my transcription needs.

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Question: What workflow could you delegate next?

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