The Four Pillars of Delegation

The biggest challenge for a small contractor is transitioning from a one man shop to a business that has 10 to 15 field employees and a handful of front office people. The owner of the one man shop handles all the sales, estimating, project management and bookkeeping. The owner of the 15 person firm is forced to rely on others to perform one or more of those jobs. That means in order to grow a business the owner is going to have to master the art of delegation.

Unfortunately, delegation is rarely performed properly, leaving many a contractor in a financial bind due to mess-ups with clients, poor quality of work or insufficient job costing and cash management systems. Conveniently, delegation is not that difficult to pull off if you adhere to the four pillars - more commonly known as the four E's of empowerment.

  1. Educate
  2. Enable
  3. Engage
  4. Empower

That's a tight little four step sequence that when executed properly will give you an employee who knows what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and how to produce at the level you expect.

Educate

The first pillar of delegation is education (training). Assume that every new member of your team will need to be trained on the job. Almost all of the training will be hands on coaching. As learning requires repetition, don't make the common mistake of thinking "I showed them how to do it, they should know by now." I've met very few people who learn a new skill after one training session. It can take up to seven repetitions for the average person to master a new skill.

Don't think you can skip the education step by hiring proven people. If your staffing strategy is to hire people that already know how to do their jobs the way you want them done, you are relying on a strategy that fails more often than not. Employees bring both good and bad habits with them from their previous employers. Keep in mind that really great workers rarely leave their present employment. No matter how experienced, almost every new employee needs training. 

Enable

The second pillar of delegation is enablement. Enablement means the employee has everything he or she needs to perform the job successfully. That includes having the right tools in good working condition, the information needed for sound decision making and clear understanding of priorities. Failing to properly enable a worker is a sure fire way to ensure they disappoint you. 

Engage

Education and enablement are about the head. Engagement is about the heart. Engaging an employee means getting them in a position where they are driven to work hard and smart. At the very least you need to chat with them about the impact they will have on the company's success and how the company's success is directly related to their long-term professional success.

The best way to keep employees engaged is to run a successful business by keeping the pipeline full of work from good clients. Employees who doubt the owner's ability to run a profitable company check out. Employees who have checked out are not the employees you want to be delegating important tasks to. 

Empower

Empowering means giving the employee the authority to do the job without interference and without checking in with the boss on decisions. Empowerment means the employee is ready to take on the responsibility of his job and being held accountable for doing it correctly.

Delegation

Once you've successfully worked the four pillars, delegation is simple. Let go. Check priorities every now and then. Hold those who fail to perform accountable.

It's human nature to not trust others to perform a job as well as you perform it. First of all, it's your wealth and name on the line if something goes wrong. It's your skin in the game, and when someone has skin in the game they are much more likely to work hard, make smart and timely decisions, and take care of customers. However, just because you are nervous about delegating doesn't mean you have much of a choice. 

Few strategies are more threatening to your personal wealth than having your company's profits rest completely on your ability to work. In order to have some measure of financial security, you need to build a business that can get by without your 100 hour a week presence. A realistic option is to build a business that employs at least a few front office people and a dozen or so field workers. And that means you have to master the art of delegation.

Additional resources:

Effective Steps of Delegation

Tips for Delegating Work

Becoming a Better Delegator and Coach

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