Delegating or Shirking? You Make the Call! - Part II

July 7, 2009
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Let someone else do some of the heavy lifting


“You can delegate authority, but not responsibility.”
- Stephen W. Comiskey

I well remember the day: I was a high-flying – some might say arrogant – owner of a carpet cleaning and restoration company for more than 20 years. During one especially busy time I barked out to my operations manager, “Tim, I’m going to delegate this one to you!”

He calmly replied, “So Steve, just one question: Are you really delegating authority or are you just shirking responsibility?”

Ouch! This one hit me right between the eyes. As I analyzed my business structure and practices I realized my delegation procedures were deeply flawed and seriously affected my business efficiency.

Even worse, my autocratic manner was alienating my employees and contributing to a high turnover rate.

Yep, my management style was sick! The diagnosis? I was suffering from a bad case of FDP (Failure to Delegate Properly)! Here are the symptoms of FDP and the prescription for recovery:

Ready! Fire! Aim!

Business is tough, and nowadays more than ever. So it is easy to fall into an “MBC” (Management By Crisis) mode. Remember, though, that if everything is an urgent crisis than truly nothing is!

Employees hate this stressful atmosphere. Even worse, given the inevitable limited resources all small companies work with, if you don’t base your daily priorities on your long-range goals, the really important stuff won’t get done.

The result? A business that just lurches through the day instead of consistently and profitably growing.

The solution: Above all else, take some time. That’s right, “begin with the end in mind.” What do you (and your loved ones) want out of life? Business should be about more than just daily survival; just “surviving” is what you call a “job.”

Your business should serve your life. So define exactly what you want, though I will caution you that this is a much more complex and often uncomfortable exercise than you might imagine! Of course, delegating is not just about you …

Not Making it Easier to do It Right Than to do It Wrong

Everything in your company is “easy” for you to do. After all, over the years you are the one who developed each part/system/step in your company. Your business has evolved based on your personality and character.

Since the typical successful start-up entrepreneur is a wildly creative but chaotic individual severely lacking in organizational skills, he or she is often doomed as the business grows. Sound like anyone you know? Hmm?

The solution: Obsess over making your company “idiot-proof.” Am I accusing your employees of being dummies here? Absolutely not. Your people may be smarter than you! After all, you’ve been making stupid mistakes for years!

But when an owner-operator does something boneheaded, it is fairly easy for you to recover. However, when you have delegated the same task to employees and things fall apart, cleaning up the mess can be agonizing, add to which it is extremely demoralizing for a good employee to realize they have screwed up.

The main trap in not “making it easy” is…

Give the authority and delegate the responsibility

Not Defining the Task and/or Desired Results

Many hard-charging entrepreneurs – myself included – are guilty of speaking in a sort of “verbal shorthand”. Since we already have the entire process visualized we impatiently bark out a few quick steps and hope that the employee complies.

Then, when the employee fails – although it’s due to our own negligence – we scornfully complain, “People just don’t want to work anymore!”

The solution: Don’t just tell the employee what to do. You or someone else should ask follow-up questions to make sure the worker understands what is expected of them. Even better, demonstrate how to do the work, and then have them show you what they have learned.

Of course, your ultimate goal should be to document every task in your company with a step-by-step, written procedure as part of your “Business Infrastructure.” But even with written (or video) procedures in place, you will still need to perform the “demonstrate and verify” steps below above.

But the teaching/ learning curve will be much shorter. Yet above all else, you must stop…

Micro-managing Everything

Ah, this one is soooo very hard for most of us, me included! Your business is your baby and your clients are like family. So you want everything to be perfect (or at least meet your vision of perfection!).

Speaking frankly, this obsessive-compulsive micro-management is the single biggest reason why so many owner-operators grow old on the wand! So sad, because the answer lies within each entrepreneur.

The solution: I was as obsessive as any owner-operator. But after futilely tilting at far too many employee “windmills,” I realized I needed to change my definition of “perfection.”

My new attitude became perfection is sufficient for its intended purpose. So the logical question became, “What was the ‘purpose’ of the employee/customer transaction?”

The answer we eventually arrived at was, “To leave the customer pleased enough that they will call us again and hopefully become a Cheerleader that will passionately market our services to all of their friends.”

If my employee achieves this goal, all the vacuum CFM, low dry times and pre-spray pH become irrelevant.

In addition, the old saying is so true, “When you delegate responsibility you must also give the authority to accomplish the task.”

However, remember that no longer obsessively controlling everything does not mean freeing your people from all accountability. A major symptom of FDP is…

Don’t wake up one day feeling chained to the wand

Not Holding Your Employees Accountable

Let’s face it: we all do better when we are accountable. Think how American business would run if employees were told “just come in when you can” or “work as hard as you want to.” What would happen to the country if the IRS said, “Just send us what you can when you can.”?

The problem occurs when you abdicate your “throne” to your employees and they set up their “own little kingdoms” and merrily do whatever they please.

Your customers crave consistency and you must achieve this with employees if you ever hope to successfully grow past the owner-operator stage.

If, as an owner-operator, you can’t be consistent then you have some major issues!

The solution: Trust but verify. Set up systems that both reward your people when they “hit goal” but also let them know that there will be consequences when and if they veer away from the consistent procedures you have in place.

In addition, make your employees accountable on where they are during the day. More and more multi-truck companies are adding GPS tracking systems to each van so they know where their employees are at all times.

On the other hand, business should be about more than punishment. So a final symptom of FDP is …

Get off the truck on your own terms

Failing to Recognize/Reward Your People

Business should be much more about “the carrot” than “the stick.” Recognition in front of their peers is the simplest, fastest, most effective and, without a doubt, the cheapest form of employee motivation out there.

Yet due to the daily press of business, my guess is you don’t give enough sincere commendation to your workers. It costs you nothing except a little time and attention and yet it doesn’t happen.

The solution: Program into your business schedule some Public Commendation. For example, in your weekly staff meeting have a “Customer Comment” of the week contest.

Read out all the positive comments you have gleaned off of both your Quality Check calls and your returned Customer Comment cards. Be sure to also mention the employee by name on each one.

Pre-select the very best comment and name this employee the weekly “Comment Winner”! (Applause to follow.) You will be amazed at the competition to win this accolade.

In addition, try to give a specific commendation to at least one employee every day. Instead of “Thanks for your hard work,” specifically isolate how your worker has improved and what it means to you and them both.

For example, “John, I really appreciate how you much you have improved your in-home Scotchgard presentation skills. Do you realize over the last quarter your up-sells have increased by 64%, and this means your average paycheck is running almost 100 bucks per week more than just three months ago? Thank you so much.”

Easy, effective and it didn’t cost you one cent!

As one business mentor told me many years ago, “Steve, no one can do it as well as you can. But you can’t do it all as well as many separate employees IF you train and delegate properly.”

After many years of struggling I finally conquered my FDP and built a motivated staff that was a joy to work with. Consequently, I not only made more money, I finally had the stress-free time to enjoy other things in life instead of being “chained to the wand.”

Freedom is a wonderful thing – and you can achieve it if you delegate properly!

Author’s Note: Don’t try to grow a big business without mastering the “FDP avoidance” steps. Instead, stay small as an owner-operator and enjoy life! The problem is, most carpet cleaners wind up “somewhere in between”. What I call “too big but too small”. However, if you follow this link, I’ve shared a six-step process on how to avoid this often agonizing “road in-between.” The download is free.

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to i Cleaning Specialist Magazine.

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