Delegating Tasks, Not Responsibility

It’s strange, I’m sure I’ve written this post before but I can’t find it. Apologies if this is a repetition on something I’ve written before, it certainly seems a repetition in my head.

One of the first things I learnt when I started managing tasks (sometime in school, I can’t recall when); was that there is a difference between delegating a task and the delegation of responsibility.

Delegating Tasks

Grow big enough, or heck, deal with outside contractors and sooner or later you’ll end up delegating tasks and projects.  You have to if you want to grow a business.   There are only so many hours available in a day, and only so many projects that you can manage before you burn out or let something fall through the cracks.

Delegation is an interesting topic in of itself – you have to weigh both the existing skills of the individual involved (and potential skills you want to grow) as well as the task itself.  Some tasks require a degree of involvement and access to knowledge that is not viable to delegate to another (e.g. managing the accountant or lawyer); while others require such a ramp-up in skills (e.g. developing the marketing plan) that it often seems to be foolish to delegate but can, in the long-term, be worthwhile.

In all cases, when you delegate the task, you hopefully delegate the authority to complete the task.  That includes both the authority to commandeer resources as well as the knowledge / access to information the task needs to be completed.

Not Responsibility

This is where many of us stumble.  As business owners, we generally understand instinctively that everything that happens in the business is our responsibility.  As such, it’s really, really hard in many ways to delegate anything especially anything of substance.  Need someone to take out the trash? Sure, we can delegate that.  Need someone to negotiate the garbage collection contract? Uhh…

What sometimes happens then is that when we do get around to delegating, we do so completely – walking away from the entire task because otherwise, we micromanage.  Unfortunately, delegating the task often does not mean the final delegation of responsibility.  As the owners, it’s still our responsibility at the end of the day; even if we had no direct connection to the task.  If the garbage isn’t taken out and the place stinks, customers will blame us – not the staff member involved.

Tips & Tricks

So what do you do? I don’t know what you do, but here’s a few things I use:

  • SMART criteria for tasks / projects
  • Metrics – for on-going tasks & projects (e.g. number of orders shipped, number of games sold, etc)
  • Regular & scheduled check-in’s – These can range from meetings to regular reports
  • Unannounced / informal check-in’s
  • Parallel projects – doing the work yourself as well as delegating the job.  This is especially useful when you’re conducting a time sensitive project which you’d also like to use a teaching project.