Time is everyone’s most precious asset. It is also the one aspect of my business I can truly control. As you grow in your career and responsibilities, there is more complexity and information to handle. For leaders, the ability to prioritize becomes even harder.
An important and often overlooked skill is the ability to delegate — it really is an art — and it’s extremely important to your business. Think of your organization like a tree. Decisions can be made at every level; leaves, branch, trunk, and roots — and this analogy can help us think about delegation in a new light (more on this later).
Learning to delegate can have a tremendous impact on your business and, according to Inc, a recent study found that 53 per cent of business owners believe they can grow their business by more than 20 per cent if they delegate 10 per cent of their workload to someone else.
Being busy can be perceived as a badge, but it can lead to burn out and, frankly, unproductive work. I remember experiencing ongoing numbness in my legs during the early days of starting HomeStars. As soon as I made time to stretch and exercise, at least twice a week, that weird feeling disappeared and I was more productive.
In the early years I wore many hats and was involved in every single aspect of the business — marketing, sales, product, fundraising, payroll, office management, cash flow, hiring, etc. As we started to grow the team, the challenge became knowing what to let go of and what to hold on to.
Time, precious time
As CEO of a rapidly growing company, it’s easy to fill up my time with all sorts of issues. When I look at my calendar for the week ahead, I am conscious of how my time is being spent. I like to think of my time being divided into three buckets:
Planning (time spent thinking, reading)
Meeting (weekly 1–1s and hashing out plans with the leadership team)
Communication (internal emails & chats, and external networking)
All three activities focus on building a healthy culture and organization. My time is centered around supporting a cohesive leadership team, creating clarity around our key priorities, and communicating these priorities clearly across the company.
How do you know when it’s time?
When someone else on the team can easily manage the task, it’s time to delegate. As we grew from a team of 10, to 50 and now 100+, I had to let go of things I really enjoyed. Things like working on the product, reviewing designs and brainstorming future features. It was also hard to let go of critical stuff I’d lose sleep over: like timing of expenses, accounts receivable and managing cash flow to make payroll. Only by finding really strong departmental leaders, was I was able to let go of some bigger things.
Delegating properly can empower employees and give them a better sense of control over their work, translating into a more productive work environment. If you give employees permission to take risks and complete projects in their own way, using their own skills, the results often surprise you. The trick is developing a highly trained, specialized team and then gaining alignment on problems we are trying to solve from the onset.
What to delegate
I have learned to delegate virtually everything that doesn’t fall into the three categories I mentioned earlier. Some additional tasks like final-stage hiring (I meet most new candidates personally), company performance evaluations, reporting to our owners, and strategic direction, I would never delegate. But product development, sales projects, software vendor selection, customer relations projects, and many others can be delegated to develop autonomy, ownership and personal growth.
Prioritization is a huge part of delegating and probably the most challenging aspect. Every day I need to evaluate how my time — but most importantly my energy — is spent. Before we even get to the place of delegation, we need to figure out which projects require our time. But once we’ve figured that out, delegation is our next step. By using this technique to determine our path forward, my goal is to empower my leadership team to do the same. I’ve found over the years that this approach gives us more organizational flexibility and agility.
A few years ago I read a great model for delegating and decision making in the book “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott. The basic premise is that your organization is like a healthy and growing tree. And decision making can be broken down into four parts of the tree:
1. Leaf Decisions: These are things that your team decides, and have no need to tell anyone.
2. Branch Decisions: Also decisions your team decides, and then report on the actions they took. Perhaps it’s an upset customer and they provide a discount at a pre-approved level, and notes are made for finance.
3. Trunk Decisions: These are more important decisions that require a discussion with someone more senior before acting.
4. Root Decisions: These are fundamental areas of the company and must go to the leadership team before decisions are made. These are crucial business decisions that, if poorly made and implemented, could cause harm to the organization.
This analogy forces you to think about how you can delegate decision-making to the leaf level, while giving more accountability to your team. This in turn builds a healthier organization and stronger culture — from the leaves to the roots.