What should be delegated?

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on October 30, 2009 in: Delegation for Success, Freelancing

This blog post was on my list of “things to write about” for two weeks now, but I’ve been busy with other things. That’s okay, though, because it’s a perennial topic.

I was recently reading a blog in the New York Times (published October 15th) by a CEO of a NY-based company. She referenced that, in a previous blog (published October 7th), she had written about ways to bypass high-priced agencies and run your own PR. And in that blog, someone had shared with her a brilliant piece of wisdom which sounds like something I tell people every day: In essence, the commenter said “you’re already busy as a CEO; why do the PR yourself as well? Focus on your core competencies to build your business and leave PR to someone else.” Read her original October 7th blog, entitled “Which PR Firm Do You Use?” .

That was her October 7th blog and she followed it up a week later with a reflection on that comment and the challenges she faces in deciding what work to keep and what work to delegate. Read her follow-up October 15th blog entitled “More On Do It Yourself PR and My Role as CEO” .

Finding the delegation balance amidst our busy roles
Many of us have been in her shoes: We’re leading a growing organization and trying to discover the balance between what we should do ourselves and what we give up. Although there are different sizes of businesses – the freelancer who hires a virtual assistant and the CEO of a 15-person firm who hires a COO, and everything in between – the challenge is surprisingly similar: Each leader is busy and has to figure out what to give up and what to keep.

Rules of thumb for leaders who want to delegate

First, give up what you don’t like to do. After all, you should enjoy your work! This isn’t always possible, depending on who you hire, but it might help to influence who you hire. (For example, if you’re a freelancer and you hate selling, you might want an assistant who can handle a large part of your selling process).

Second, give up the work that isn’t related to your core competency. This is easier to do for the freelancer than for the CEO of the larger business because a freelancer can easily identify his or her core competency as the specific revenue-generating activities they do. But a CEO has core competencies that are not necessarily specific to revenue generation, and this is discussed briefly in the October 15th blog I referenced earlier. The CEO is good at PR, even if she’s not running a PR firm. So, core competencies are more “business-growing” activities rather than strictly “revenue-generating” activities. If you’re a CEO and you’re a visionary, then embrace that and hand off the day-to-day to a COO.

Third, give up the work that is your core competency. No, this advice doesn’t conflict with the passage above. I think it’s the “next step” in taking a small business into the big business world. Small business owners do the revenue generation themselves; in big businesses, leaders eventually need to pass off business growing activities to sales and marketing experts, revenue-generation activities to production people, and they even willingly pass off core competency work to others, ideally duplicating their effort by sharing their wisdom. Take a look at a mammoth company like Dell: Michael Dell may have once picked up a screwdriver to assemble a computer… that was a revenue generating core competency of his. However, I’m fairly certain that he hasn’t picked up a screwdriver in a quite a while. And even if he has competencies in other areas (like efficient systems, for example) we can be fairly certain that he has other people doing that too. He’s kept a few things and passed off many other things (business building, revenue generating, core competencies) to other people.

Certainly, there are no easy answers and it does look different for every business owner or business leader. But one answer is clear: You can’t do it all so you have to pass some things to other people.

Happy Blogging!

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