Delegating & Outsourcing

There are only so many hours in your day.  If you don’t want to let work take over your life, you have to learn to prioritise and finally delegate as you grow as a business.  One of the biggest problems of a successful business is a boss / owner who doesn’t know how to delegate.

Types of Tasks

Which is fine, but how do you know what you can delegate? Well, for me I delegate or outsource a task, they generally fall into one of a few categories :

  • Low Knowledge Tasks

Oh look, we need to do inventory. Or packing. Or receiving.  All important tasks – but you don’t need a lot of training to do any of these.  This is not a specialised task or one that is particularly complex – so why are you; the owner doing this?  If you can afford to delegate, why don’t you?

  • Specialised knowledge tasks

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have specialised tasks that require a high level of specialised knowledge.  Our yearly tax returns are a great example.  Could I learn how to fill out the tax form? Probably.  Would it be worth the time and effort taken? No.  There’s too great a liability to getting it wrong as well.  So these are great tasks to outsource.

  • Tasks I’m Not Good At

There’s a lot of things that you might be good at.  There are a lot of tasks or types of tasks that I just am not very good at.  These days, I do my best to delegate these tasks to others.  As a great example – anything that has to deal with detailed work.  My mind spins too fast, running away from the task at hand and I often make mistakes on detailed work even when I try to focus.  It’s better and easier to actually delegate a lot of this type of work to someone  else, just to get it right.

  • Things I Hate to Do

Here’s the part where I abuse my privilege of being the business owner.  I do outsource and delegate some work that I could do, which I just have no desire to do.  The Video Reviews are a great example.  Could I do them? Sure.  Are they a detailed / knowledge-heavy enough task that it’s not low value? Yes.  Would it cost a lot more to outsource than produce in-house? Yes.  So why don’t’ I do them? Because I don’t want to.

Sometimes, you should use the privilege of being the boss.

When to Delegate

Great.  So you know the types of tasks I generally delegate, but when do you do delegate?  Here’s a few criteria I use:

  • Can I afford to? – Obvious and no explanation needed
  • Can I replace the delegated task with another higher value task? – Assuming you still intend to work those hours, sometimes it’s worth asking if there’s a better task you could be doing.  If there isn’t, you should just do the task at hand after all.
  • What’s my liability if this task is not completed by me?  – I still double-check our petty cash books on a regular basis, ensuring that everything totals up correctly.  It’s a boring, tedious task that I dislike doing but it’s a necessary fraud-check behavior.  If I delegated this task, it would lose most of its importance and increase my liability to being defrauded.
  • Can this task be done faster, more effectively and cheaper than by someone else than me? – If I’m not really good at a task and have to continuously redo or recheck a task to ensure it gets done properly, perhaps it’s better done by someone else.
  • Is this task important enough that someone else should know how to do it? – Nearly every single task in the store has been completed by me at some point or another.  I can takeover almost every single task, and that’s good.  The opposite should be true – in case of accident / injury / illness; your employees should still be able to run the store without you (mostly).  Some things might require you to use a 3rd party (e.g. a director, your lawyer or accountant) if you would prefer not to give them that level of power / control (e.g. the ability to pay the bills).
  • How much problems are there going to be delegating this? – delegation of tasks takes time.  If it’s a one-off task, it might be better to just bit the bullet and do it yourself.

If you can get most of those checked off, you’re good to go.  That lists even works for tasks in-house if you are looking to outsource it.

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.