deciding or delegating

No time? Are you deciding or delegating?

What could you accomplish if your staff was not focused on completing tasks, but on delivering outcomes for your company?

— Mike Michalowicz, “Clockwork”

If you’re a business owner, team leader or manager, then you’ve likely had the experience of going through a full day and not getting anything done.

Possibly because you’re easily distracted (it happens – squirrel!!!), but more likely the problem is that every time you started to focus on something and get stuff done, someone came in and asked you a question. Or there was an emergency … or a customer issue … or, well you get the idea.

It’s a common growth pattern. You’ve got work to do; you get busy because things are going well and realize that you have to get more help. So you hire someone, carve out some of your tasks for them to do and spend some time training the new person on the activities you need done.

Things are great at first – sure there are a lot of questions, but that just shows that the new person is engaged and paying attention. You continue to be busy so you end up hiring a couple more people and repeat the process. Eventually you have a full team (5, 8 … 15 or 20?) and collectively you are getting more done.

But … you haven’t freed up any of your own time. In fact, now most of your time is spent answering questions and dealing with challenges that your team is bringing to you. And if the team is big enough, you probably have even less time for the big picture stuff than you had before when it was just you.

What happened?

Deciding versus Delegating

You’ve made the very common mistake of assigning tasks (a mode of work called Deciding) versus assigning an outcome (Delegating).

This is one of the big ideas from the new book “Clockwork” by Mike Michalowicz – and I think he’s hit the nail on the head with this one. Mike makes the assertion that there are four ways to spend your time when you’re working (four modes of working). You are either:

  • Doing // Actually hands-on doing whatever the work is for the customer or the business.
  • Deciding // Assigning tasks but keeping the responsibility for the outcome, which puts you in the position of answering questions, solving problems and making final approvals on everything.
  • Delegating // Assigning outcomes to others. You set targets and timelines but someone else actually owns making it happen.
  • Designing // Spending time on the big picture of what needs to be done. Working ON the business rather than IN it.

As a hands-on business owner, manager or team leader, it can be really difficult to truly let go of important activities. You’ve been the one person working with Client X for the last two years – you can’t just let someone else take over that crucial responsibility… what if they screw it up?

But here’s the thing … if you can’t let go of things, if you can’t let others take on true “ownership” roles on the team or in the business, then you’re going to hit a ceiling – sooner rather than later, and you’re going to hit it hard.

You are going to be the bottleneck for the operation, and it’s not a good place to be.

Transitioning from Deciding to Delegating

The good news is that you can fix this – if you’re willing to let go and if you have the right people on board.

It’s not something that you’ll change overnight – if this has been going on for a while, you’ve trained everyone on your team to come to you with any challenges … and you’ve solved those challenges for them. You’ve made them dependent on you.

If you suddenly just walk away and leave it in their hands, they are going to struggle, and you will have some bad outcomes (which will ironically help to convince you that you MUST be involved with every detail going forward … which is how you got in this mess to begin with).

Consider trying this. As your team comes to you with questions, instead of answering them, start asking them: What would you do? Invest the time to grow their skills and knowledge, but make it clear that your expectations are changing and that they WILL be taking things over in the near future.

This will take time … and you may discover that you have some team members who aren’t capable of making that transition to owning an outcome. If that’s the case, either find a lower tier job that they can do or consider letting them go.

Remember – this doesn’t have to happen all at once with all of your critical tasks. Michalowicz describes it as a throttle that you can open up over time (as opposed to a black and white on/off switch).

It’s a lot of work, but imagine a day in the future where you have a lot of work getting done by your team – and instead of dealing with 100 questions and issues, you are dealing with 5. Your day is much smoother, you have time to think strategically, you can spend more quality time with clients, vendors and partners looking for other ways to improve and life, overall, is much, much better.

You’re collectively getting more done and working less.

You’re living the dream!

What do you think? Does this idea resonate with you? Have you seen anyone who’s getting stuck Deciding when they should ultimately be Delegating? We’d love to hear your thoughts.