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Learning to Delegate Helps the Business, Frees Up Time

June 03, 2002

Executive Roundtable is a weekly column by TEC Worldwide, an international organization of more than 7,000 business owners, company presidents and chief executives. TEC members meet in small peer groups to share their business experiences and help one another solve problems in a round-table session. The following question and answer are a summary of a discussion at a recent TEC meeting in Southern California.


Question: I own a $15-million scrap-metal recycling company. I would like to double the business over the next five years, but I'm already working 70 hours a week and don't see how I could take on any more. How do you run a successful business and have a life at the same time?

Answer: The answer lies in your question. The key is to actually run the business (i.e., manage it) rather than trying to do everything yourself.

Based on the fact that you're already working 70 hours a week, it sounds like you may have a problem with the dreaded "D" word--delegation. Until you learn to do this essential managerial activity well, your company can never grow beyond the limits of your own capabilities.

The place to start, suggests Karen Good, president of EDP Systems in Irvine, is with an honest assessment of your management style. Do you delegate or abdicate? Do you allow people to make mistakes or do you come down hard on failure, so that nobody in your organization will take a risk? Do you have a strong need for control, or can you allow people to do things their way as long as they produce the results you want? Above all, do you constantly solve problems for everyone or do you encourage people to come up with solutions on their own?

As long as you remain the designated CAP--Chief Answer Person, says Good, your people have no reason to figure things out on their own.

Next, says Bob Dabic, chief executive of DabiCoaching in Newport Beach, look at how you spend your time. Do you invest it in high-level CEO activities--such as setting the vision, crafting the strategy and focusing on market opportunities--or do you spend the entire day in the trenches putting out tactical and operational fires? More important, do you take on tasks that you have hired others to do because you don't like the way they get things done?

Finally, take some time to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your management team. Do your managers have the experience, knowledge and skills to take on much of what you do, thereby helping the company grow? Or have they gone as far within the company as their limited skills will allow? Sooner or later, most entrepreneurs have to make the tough decision to let loyal people go simply because they're holding the company back. In order to expand your business, you may have to face this issue as well.

If you're serious about expanding the company while reducing your workload to a more manageable level, says Steve Driscol, president of Thermal-Vac Technology in Orange, the first step involves identifying your strengths and weaknesses and delegating the functions and activities in which you don't excel.

"One approach would be to bring in an experienced general manager who can take over the daily operations," he said. "This would free you up to focus on the things that you do best while putting the company in capable hands. Or you could divide up the tasks you currently perform and hire a competent manager in each of those functional areas. It might take a year to find and hire the right people, but with a strong management team in place, you can cut back on your hours and focus on growing the company rather than managing the day-to-day stuff."

David La Montagne, president of Vessel Assist Assn. of America in Newport Beach, supports the idea of hiring a general manager or chief operating officer, but only under certain conditions.

"First, make sure you clearly outline the role you want the person to perform and your expectations for the position," he advised. "Provide specific, measurable goals and objectives, and put them in writing. It also helps to identify the resources the person will have available--budgets, spending capacity, etc.--so they have a good idea of what they have to work with.

"In addition, identify the level of power and authority the person will have at their command. If they want to exceed that level, they must consult with you before making any decisions, giving orders or taking action. Above all, make it crystal clear to your people they can't come running to you with problems and issues once the general manager is in place. Otherwise, you will undermine the GM's role and end up taking back everything you delegated."

The good news is that you can run a business and have a life at the same time--as long as you learn to let go and trust the people you hired to do the job. Of course, you can choose to maintain the status quo and work yourself into exhaustion.

Or, you can learn to get results through others and enjoy the fruits of your labors. The choice is yours.


If there is a business issue you would like addressed in this column, contact TEC at (800) 274-2367, Ext. 3177. To learn more about TEC, visit www.teconline .com.

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