How to Delegate Effectively: An Essential, Yet Overlooked Process in Growing a Small Business

A common thread among many small businesses is that the business owner, or their “go-to person,” typically a manager, is wearing multiple hats. They are acting as an owner/manager, and they are fulfilling the role of a “missing link”—an employee that does not exist within their company. Whether it’s because the individual who used to do that role is no longer with the company, or the role has not yet been created—it puts a client at a particularly important crossroads… do they, or do they not delegate?

How to Delegate

The Webster’s dictionary defines the word delegate as “a person authorized to act for others; representative” (noun), and delegated/delegating, as “to appoint as a delegate,” and “to entrust authority to another.” Essentially, a business owner or manager will have to remove responsibilities from their workload and entrust them to another employee. This can be easier said than done, due to the effort or forethought needed before delegating. When faced with this crossroads decision, business owners or managers may have similar concerns.

Roadblocks to Delegating

  • “I can’t afford to hire another person. I’m saving money by doing it myself.”
  • “If I want something done right, I’ll just do it myself.”
  • “I don’t have the time to train someone because I’m swamped.”
  • “I like to oversee things from start to finish to make sure it’s done right.”
  • “I wouldn’t know where to start. Who would I give these responsibilities to?”
  • “Things would be easier if I could just clone myself.”

While business owners and managers are superheroes to their company, they are not superhuman. They are not immune to everyday personal issues and eventually they may need to take time away from the office, “unplugged.” It’s important to consider the “what if” scenarios. Ask yourself: “what if something happened where I couldn’t be in the office, or if I wasn’t available;” and “would the business suffer in my absence?” The problem with running such a tight ship is that it can’t sail without a captain. You need a first mate, a plan B, a delegate: someone who can act as your representative, someone that a business owner or manager can entrust authority to.

Thinking Strategically

It’s important for business owners and managers to think ahead, and think strategically. One of the best ways to start is to identify at which stage of the business life-cycle the company is currently in. Is the business still in the “infant” stage, as a start up? Is the business hitting its growth stage? Is the business in a successful, mature stage? Or is the business in decline? Identifying where the company is now can help to strategically plan the next year, two years, five years, etc. How do you envision your role as a business owner or manager in the next couple of years? Do you think you are going to have more responsibilities or less? Where do you think a majority of your working time and energy should be focused in order to achieve your goals?

Job Descriptions

As a best practice, business owners and managers should create job descriptions for all of the existing company positions. The job descriptions should outline essential job functions, and all the little day-to-day tasks that they do. Are there enough tasks on their own job description to create another position within the company? If so, what skill set would be needed to fill the position? Would a part time or full-time employee be needed? How much can the company afford to pay? Should the company outsource? If there are not enough tasks to warrant a new hire, could some of those tasks be delegated among the existing staff? Are there individuals among the current staff that could handle some of those responsibilities? Is there a staff member who has potential to grow within the organization if they were trained to take on some additional responsibilities? Putting everything to paper can help put things in perspective. Often business owners or managers may not even realize how much time they are spending in an “employee” role rather than a managerial mindset. And while it may make sense for a business owner or manager to jump in and take over the role of an employee who is no longer with the company for financial reasons—how long do they plan on doing it for? When will it no longer make financial sense to take time and focus away from other tasks that are essential to a business owner or manager?

Effective Delegation: How You Delegate Can Make a Difference

Once a business owner or manager has identified a need to delegate, and what tasks should be delegated, they have to be ready to “let go.” Let go of the task, let go of the responsibility. Business owners and managers have to be patient and not hover over their employee waiting for them to make a mistake. Don’t look for an opportunity to snatch that non-essential function back into your list of responsibilities the moment someone fails to meet expectations. When delegating, make sure not to bark orders, or throw those additional responsibilities on existing staff at the end of the workday. It’s important to remember to delegate the task, not the method. How you complete the task may be different from how someone else completes the task, but if the end result is that the task is completed, and it’s a job well done, then you have a win-win situation. And for managers, sometimes it can be difficult to “let go.” Some like the feeling of being irreplaceable, and fear for their job security when they are asked to review their own job description, or delegate responsibilities to a subordinate. They may even enjoy those little day-to-day tasks. It’s important for a business owner to put those fears to rest, and allow a manager to see and be a part of the strategic vision. The time spent each day on administrative tasks could be better served managing and developing the staff.

Using Your Time Wisely

All business owners and managers can certainly agree on one thing—time is money. And once time is spent, you can’t get it back. So, it’s important for individuals who steer the company in a strategic direction to avoid getting stuck in the “hamster wheel.” Small business owners and their managers should delegate in a way which helps their business and team grow, or stabilize. Collecting responsibilities, multitasking, and wearing multiple hats can at times provide a false sense of security and control to someone in a position of authority. But when 20 percent of their time is spent on one task, and 30 percent of their time on another, and 10 percent on another…well, you’re not 100 percent focused on anything, and strategic planning deserves your full attention. Delegating can help you utilize your time and staff more efficiently, ultimately reaching your strategic goals, despite whatever roadblocks might lie ahead. This article originally appeared on

Jennifer Benz
<p> Jennifer Benz, PHR is a Senior HR Generalist with Paychex HR Solutions, and is approaching her 8-year anniversary with the company. Her professional practice is concentrated on HR and she works with small and medium sized businesses in the Long Island, NY area.<br /> <a href="" target="_blank"></a> | <a href="" target="_blank">Facebook</a> | <a href="" target="_blank">@Paychex</a> | <a href="/author/jennifer-benz/all-posts" target="_blank">More from Jennifer</a></p>


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