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As you likely already know, (or will discover in the following chapter) systems will take care of much of the day-to-day needs of a business, but what about those occasional or random items that show up unannounced?

The solution is delegation. It’s a simple enough concept. You simply give out part of your work to an employee. So what’s the problem? Most business owners and managers feel uncomfortable passing work out to their employees because they don’t trust the work will be done satisfactorily. Why? Because they tried it before and it didn’t work. The employee either made a mistake or the manager ended up doing most of the work anyway.

As a result, most managers keep their employees on a short leash. They tell them exactly what to do and when to do it, monitoring their progress from start to finish. Unfortunately, a manager’s ability to accomplish his work is directly impacted by the amount of time and energy he must devote to his subordinates. In other words, the more the manager gets involved with his subordinates' work, the less time he has to accomplish his own.

Henry Ford was known to delegate time consuming and unpleasant jobs to the laziest man that worked for him. He figured out that generally it would take a day or two for them to figure out the easiest and quickest way to accomplish that task.

There are some owners and managers alike who believe themselves to be fantastic delegators. They spend their days fielding questions from employees, giving them answers and sending them on their way to take care of business. These owners or managers are still making every decision. They are fooling themselves into thinking they are great delegators. But, in fact, they are making things worse. They have delegated the work, but not the decision. For delegation to be effective, employees must have the tools and abilities needed to make appropriate decisions, not just to act out instructions from above.

Your Business Systems will help you put your business on “autopilot,” but there will always be new tasks and projects that fall outside of your regular business activities. The way to quickly and efficiently redirect the activities of your employees is through delegation. Whether it's a large project or a simple task, it will go much smoother if you follow a few basic rules when delegating activities.

  1. Be Clear

Make sure your employees understand exactly what you'd like them to do. Have them explain their assignments back to you in their own words. If they have trouble with this, you’ll need to go over it again.

It's important to be extremely clear with your explanations and your expectations. Problems arise when people do not clearly understand what is expected of them. If things aren’t clear, work will not get done to your level of satisfaction. It takes more time up front to make sure things are clear, but it’s time well spent.

  1. Put It In Writing

Assignment requests should be documented and distributed to all parties involved whenever possible. People tend to take their responsibilities more seriously when they are put in writing. Written documents put accountabilities on permanent record, reducing the chance that things will be forgotten. The importance or complexity of the task will determine the formality that is necessary. A more significant task should be documented in full detail, a smaller task might require only a short e-mail.

  1. Assign a Completion Date and Time

Never delegate a task without a completion date and time. For example, “The proposal must be completed and distributed by 1:00 PM on March 3.” If the assignment is low priority, give it a due date appropriately far away, if you don’t, it won’t get done. You’ll find yourself wasting time, hounding the person until you finally get it back, most likely half done. In a busy company, dateless assignments will always be given a low priority. If something is not important enough to be given a due date, it's not important enough to waste time on.

If, for some reason, something can’t be done on time, it should be given a new due date, and an explanation should be documented. Otherwise it might be forgotten or postponed indefinitely.

Important: When people have trouble understanding something that you find simple (and they will), be patient. Showing your frustrations will only discourage them from asking for clarification the next time.

  1. Set Up Checkpoints

Most people like a certain amount of autonomy, but no one wants to work in a vacuum. Nothing is more frustrating than working for weeks on a project only to find that you were headed in the wrong direction and have to start over.

The best way to give feedback on a project is to set up dates to monitor your employee’s progress. If a project is due in one month, you might set one checkpoint after a couple of days to make sure that he or she's on the right track, another one after two weeks, and a final one just before it’s due. It’ll give you a chance to see how things are progressing and a chance for him or her to ask questions. If they're having trouble or if they're going in the wrong direction, it's better to know in advance than on the due date. By then, it may be too late.

Checkpoints give your employee the freedom to work independently, with just enough supervision to keep them on track.

  1. Never Take Back the Responsibility For Something You Have Delegated

When your employees come to you for help, offer your advice and support, but never take back the responsibility you handed out. “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you” is almost always the wrong response to an employee’s problem. Instead, offer your input, and then have your employee make their own decision. Better yet, make it a policy that employees must bring suggested solutions with them whenever they come to you with a problem. Encouraging your employees to solve their own problems teaches them not to give up whenever things get a little tough.

In this chapter you should have designed, shared and made a plan to review your:

  • Employees' current authority.
  • Position Outlines.
  • Delegation System.