Thoughts on Delegation and Outsourcing

Learning how to delegate is probably one of the most difficult things in business. It is also one of the most important elements of being a successful manager.

We all know that our time is limited. No matter what you do, you will not be able to generate additional hours in the day. The only thing you can do is make better use of those hours.

Failing to delegate is failing to make the best use of your time. The more you can learn to delegate, the more your team can achieve as each person takes some responsibility off of the plate of the person above them. Every time this happens a level in the organization is free to take on more responsibility from those above.

The right kind of delegation also keeps each member of your team performing up to the limit of their current skill level. They have tasks that are challenging, helping them develop in different ways, yet not so difficult that they experience frequent failure or undue frustration.

Why Delegation is Difficult

The biggest reason it is difficult to delegate is that it takes effort to explain things to others that you could more easily do yourself. Think of this time spent like an investment. When you invest the time to delegate and teach someone else, you will reap the benefits of that effort going forward. With the long-term goal in mind, you should try and spend the extra effort to gain the longer-term benefit.

For others delegation might subconsciously seem like a threat to self-importance and relevance. They feel that if they are not the one doing the task it won’t get done properly or be done the way they prefer.

Don’t let subconscious fears of irrelevance or anxiety over losing control keep you from delegating to others. When you do, you are limiting what you and others can achieve. Never worry about there being enough for you to do. Remember that your success is less about you and more about the value your team is adding to the organization. Your organization has an overflowing cup when it comes to work that needs to be done. Expand your thinking beyond what you’ve historically viewed as your role and strive to fill in gaps within the organization. You can always find ways to run the business more efficiently, save extra money, or help the business grow profitably.

Sometimes I have the mindset that if I’m not producing some analysis or reporting directly, that for some reason, I am not doing my job. I wonder, if all I do is manage things and make sure that the team is on track, am I still adding value? As long as you maintain an understanding of what your team is doing and how tasks are performed, you are, in fact, adding value without having your hands in “the actual work.” Especially in cultures lacking strong leadership and management, the direction you provide the team can be the most critical factor to their success. Remember that leadership and management take a lot of time and effort, and they are just as if not more critical than churning out monthly reports.

How to Delegate

When and how you delegate is important. You will see that your team members’ performance greatly depends on how you delegate things to them. When you delegate a task there are a number of things you must consider. The answer to these questions will help you determine if delegation is right.

  • Does someone else have the ability and the information to complete the task?
  • Does the task provide the opportunity to grow and develop the team member’s skill set?
  • Will this task reoccur?
  • Do you have enough time to delegate the job effectively?
  • Is an adequate result going to be good enough, or does the quality of the result have to be incredibly high?
  • How much would a failure impact other things?

Be sure to consider the following when delegating to others in the team:

  • Clearly articulate the desired outcome. Start explaining with the end in mind.
  • Reinforce why you have chosen them to complete the task and why they are the best fit to do it.
  • Set boundaries and constraints.
  • What are your desired checkup points and timeline.
  • Focus on results and what is accomplished instead of how the work is being done.
  • Make sure to mention what communication you expect (ie, notification of any issues or problems, etc.)
  • Avoid upward delegation. If there is a problem ask the person to identify solutions. Don’t let them hand it back over to you or expect you to just give them the answer.
  • Delegate the whole task.

Ideas for Outsourcing

Beyond just delegating recurring work to staff members, you can gain significant efficiencies by outsourcing tasks to other offices or departments. If lower cost staff are not available or capable of taking the additional work, consider hiring some temporary help of your own.

Engage lower cost departments (maybe an accounting department in India, or the AP or AR department within your office) to help you by taking on time-intensive tasks. Pushing these tasks down to lower cost departments will create value as higher cost employees are free to spend their time on strategic and analytic efforts. Develop relationships with individuals managing other departments and gain their support for absorbing additional tasks.

Consider hiring an intern. Often you can find competent, educated help that simply lacks professional experience in the office. Interns are cheap and often eager to learn and contribute to the team. If you have a list of projects for your department that you just haven’t been able to find the time to dedicate to, maybe hiring an intern for 3 or 4 months is what you need. Consider having the intern support one of your staff-level employees. This will not only free you up from day-to-day management of the intern (time spent teaching office etiquette and other fundamentals), but also give your employees some management experience.

What you should not delegate

Even though delegating tasks might seem like a great way to achieve more with the same number of people, there are some things that you should not delegate. Things where the ultimate impact is long lasting and there is a great deal of judgment involved to make decisions, like hiring or developing strategy.

You should also be very careful to not delegate anything that is not value added or necessary to reach your team’s goals. Eliminating a task is better then delegating it. Before you delegate something you should make sure that it is a worthwhile activity.

Think about what you are doing in your department and what resources are used. Do all of our efforts add value to the organization? If you have bottle necks in your process, then ask yourself if you or someone on the team is having a hard time delegating. Delegating is not easy, but is critical to both you and your team’s success.