No Time to Grow Your Business? Try Delegating Tasks

Two women delegating tasks on post it notes on an ideas board in an office space.

What is holding back the growth of your company?  A surprising answer may be a lack of delegation. Yes, even Superman had limitations. You, along with your team, only have so many hours in the day.

If the entrepreneur doesn’t learn to delegate tasks, the growth stops as soon as her plate is full. When the entrepreneur alone holds the reins, it limits the company’s growth. Effective delegation enables individual and company growth. Delegation allows business owners to focus on the most important goals of the company.

Properly delegating tasks will become more important as the face of the workforce changes. Many Millennials expect a different, more directed experience at work. This differs from workstyles of Boomers and generations in-between. Just as business technology has evolved over time, so have delegation and management styles.

Is a Lack of Delegating Tasks Holding Your Company Back?

As suggested in the book, Don’t Do. Delegate!, it may be time for a hard look at your management style. Answer these questions below from a point of real honesty to see if poor delegation, as it relates to the time available, is holding you and your company back.

Some of your answers might also point to broader issues than delegation, including project management, strategic planning, leadership and process. More than three “yes” answers could indicate there’s trouble with your delegation process.

For you:

  • Do you miss vacations because of your workload or a feeling that no one can stand in for you?
  • Do important projects remain unfinished?
  • Do you have more work than your team members do? Are you always the last to leave?
  • Do you feel you’re constantly putting out fires rather than acting on opportunities?
  • Do you fail to identify and address your company’s top priorities?
  • Do you issue orders rather than accepting input from others?

For your team:

  • Do they consult with you on even minor decisions?
  • Do they follow the letter of any assignment, not the spirit?
  • Do they have the same skills today as a year ago?
  • Do they rarely offer suggestions for improvement or bring new ideas?

For your company:

  • Do even minor decisions come from the top?
  • Is the How (method) more important than the What (result)?
  • Do decisions bottleneck because team members are afraid to make a decision?
  • Are workaholics favored over those who work fewer hours but accomplish more?
  • Are administrative tasks consuming leadership time?

Getting More Done in the Work Day by Delegating Tasks

Business team sharing documents during a business meeting.How do you delegate effectively–feeling you can completely rely on the person to get the job done to your specifications?  As with most big jobs, there’s a process for delegating tasks that requires preparation. Believe me: setting the groundwork for delegation is well worth the benefits.

Some precursors to success:

Identify a tangible outcome or result. To quote Steven Covey, “start with the end in mind.”  You must know what you want to accomplish.

Set specific requirements following SMART goal methodology:

  • Specific & Measurable – I want to see a written report on the reasons for production backlog. The report should include an analysis of the last 5 years status at the same point in the year, interviews with the production and sales teams as to the causes and impacts of the backlog, as well as any outside factors you might find. You can hire outside help at an amount not to exceed $5,000.
  • Achievable – I will make this a priority for the sales and production teams to support your efforts as well as have accounting provide needed access to historical data.
  • Relevant – We’re losing orders to our competitors due to the extended production time frame.
  • Time bound – Due in 3 weeks.

Evaluate team member capabilities. Richard Branson said, “One of the key skills I learned as a young businessman was the power of delegation. That prompted me to bring in strong managers.”

To determine who is the best candidate when delegating tasks, consider the project (value, complexity, urgency and visibility) along with team capabilities.

  • List key activities of the project and the critical skills needed to accomplish them. Per the example above: To prepare the report, I will need analytical and interpersonal interview skills, as well as organization expertise.
  • Match your team member skills to the project – Most teams don’t have the “perfect” fit, so consider the following:
    • What is likely the failure point? Say the best team member has great analytical and interpersonal skill, but is a poor writer.
    • Consider the results of failure and determine how to mitigate them. For example, if writing is critical, can you have another team member perform the report writing step (and if so, you might revise the specifics above to include notes that will be conducive to writing the report or the team will work together to produce the report.)
    • Consider growth opportunities. Devise means to support and monitor what may be different.

Decide HOW you will delegate; this step is the cornerstone of getting what you want while maintaining the motivation of the team members. Remember it’s delegation NOT abdication. In a culture of open communication, much of the following is embedded and is good practice in all environments.

  • Make it clear there is shared responsibility. The team member should participate in defining parts of the delegated project. For example, is the due date reasonable with their current workload? Would they like to take the first run at writing the report and subject it to editing?
  • Make responsibility commensurate with authority. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen people assigned task/projects beyond their authority. Be clear you have their back. Harry Truman was famous for saying, “the buck stops here.” Unfortunately, not everyone takes that level of responsibility. The task must be achievable. It’s your responsibility to clearly define and provide authority to achieve the outcome.
  • Support the process. Since the buck does stop here, you have the responsibility to support success. In this example, you already noted you would make it clear to sales and production this is a priority project. If this were a longer project, you might attend update meetings or be called upon to increase the budget due to unforeseen circumstances. The team member must be comfortable reporting updates both good and bad. This is support ONLY, the project was already defined and the authority is appropriate.
  • Establish checkpoints. The checkpoints can be deliverables (1st draft, interview notes etc.) or a specific time and frequency (a memo at 9 a.m. or meeting for 10 minutes every Thursday at 9 a.m.) or both. The choice is dependent on a number of factors including length and complexity of a project, experience of a team member, visibility of the project, breadth of scope and perceived risk of success. Establishing a schedule and form of reporting up front puts the burden of reporting on the team member. Be sure to also have a method of follow-up in place as part of your support.
  • Add the WHY of picking the team member. If you were delegating tasks in terms of the SMART goals, when you meet with the team member to complete the actual delegation, provide specific insights as to why they’re the best candidate for the job. This will convey both the sense of urgency and importance of the job.

Drawing of team members, employees, and team roles.By effectively delegating tasks, you will eliminate bottlenecks and free up more time to work on your business. As Richard Branson said, delegation “allowed me to focus on our latest ideas and projects, and on finding the next businesses to start up.”

Since many companies don’t have resources inside the business for delegation of projects that need to get done, you may rely on outside resources. Once answer may be hiring a part-time CFO as a right-hand person to help with bigger projects or someone else to take care of administrative work such as bookkeeping.

Several online sites offer services to help reduce the workload on you and your team.

In the end, it’s important to delegate tasks and move items off your plate. Free yourself up to focus on the big picture. Avoid the temptation to do it all. Remember a true leader LEADS the team to success (no dragging or carrying). By using smart delegation strategies you’ll head a happier, more productive office.


Featured image, first and second post images by rawpixel. All images via Unsplash.

How to Reduce Office Stress During a Cash Flow Crisis

Bbe aware of ways to reduce office stress during a cash flow crisis, so your employees don’t buckle under the pressure.

Nobody wants to admit the business is struggling with cash flow. Moreover, this problem isn’t only a small company problem. Any company can face cash flow problems due to bad planning, unforeseen circumstances or disruptive influences. It’s tough to reduce office stress during a cash flow crisis.

Whether you admit the cash flow problems or not, your team knows. Hopefully, you’ve already established a cohesive, respectful team with good communication skills and an interest in doing what is best for the company. And they’re there to help even in dire times.

When cash flow is a problem, there are steps to lessen the impact on the team. This isn’t the psychologist’s view, but a pragmatic look from the trenches.

Manage your Behavior to Reduce Office Stress During a Cash Flow Crisis

Fear and anger are contagious. You aren’t immune to those feelings, but you need to express them constructively and manage your reactions. Don’t shoot the messenger. As the owner or manager, you’re ultimately responsible for the situation. They need to know the Captain is at the helm and working hard with the crew to avoid crashing into the shoals. Teamwork and cooperation in all areas of the company is critical.

Communicate About Cash Flow Problems

Saving money and managing finances during a cash flow crisis is hard and stressful.Hiding cash flow problems from inside and outside stakeholders often results in bigger problems later. This doesn’t mean broadcast every issue to the front page. Use discretion in what you disclose and more importantly HOW you disclose it.

Internal Communication

Internal team members need assurance and consistency of message at all levels. Your team doesn’t want to hear your doomsday analysis. Don’t kid yourself, they already know, and you have the responsibility of helping them understand what’s being done to resolve the problem, as well as how they can help. Regular team communication is an important part of reducing office stress during a cash flow crisis. Remember, no matter how clearly you communicate, your message is subject to the filters of the person hearing it.

External Communication

Be upfront with lenders and shareholders to ensure they know you’re working on the situation; understand what caused it and how plans will change to avoid the situation in the future. Realistic cash flow forecasts help in persuading external stakeholders to stand by you.

Support the Team During Tough Times

Each team member will feel a different level of responsibility and face different issues surrounding a cash flow crunch. Support is essential at all levels.

Accounts Payable or Bookkeeper

This is typically the person fielding all the angry vendor phone calls. They aren’t paid management salaries yet respond to requests for payment. Depending on the severity of the cash crunch – this might be the worst job in the company, right now. How do you support your bookkeeper?

  • Plan weekly cash flow and determine payments to make allowing commitments and trust building with vendors.
  • Stick to the plan! Broken promises break trust. With personal experience where, in a large ($100 million plus company), we held a weekly cash planning session determining each vendor allocation primarily based on the production needs to finish product, so shipments could meet commitments and generate cash. Several vendors discovered the VP of Purchasing was a soft touch and would call to demand payment, thereby changing cash commitments, destroying the trust of those vendors already promised and often disrupting the ability to complete production. The VP’s input was part of the weekly planning. It required intervention by the President to contain his actions.
  • Offer relief and respect. The incessant phone calls in this situation not only drive up the stress level but prevent effective processing of accounts payable as well. Examples of relief:
    • Allow the person to shut off the phones for certain periods in the week. With the volume of calls and processing workload, you might allow the phones to be silenced two afternoons a week.
    • Make sure the vendors understand you’re working on paying them when phones are quiet. Do this by leaving a detailed voice mail message that says, “We‘re working on processing vendor invoices this afternoon and we will return your call starting at 8am tomorrow.”
    • Pay off small vendors, if possible. These are often the most insistent and time-consuming. The vendor volume and frustration level reduce significantly, thereby producing relief.
    • Stick to the plan. Once an atmosphere of trust established by following through on commitments exists, vendor call volume goes down.
    • Offer to take the most difficult calls.
    • Don’t allow vendors to harass team members. When a caller starts to use foul language, have a process to inform the caller of the need for respect and politely let them know you expected to have a courteous conversation. “Sir, please stop swearing. Sir, you need to discuss this in a respectful way. Sir, if you can’t discuss this in a respectful way, I will need to hang up. Sir, I am hanging up. Please call back when you can speak respectfully.” This approach gives team members control over the situation.
    • Treat the hourly employee to an extra-long lunch hour, paying for both the time and the lunch.
    • Provide a gift card or other form of appreciation for the job they are doing.

Sales and Marketing

Stress-out adult working on a computer.While all areas of the Company feel the stress, sales and marketing drive customer commitment. Often incremental sales are very valuable when cash flow is dire.

  • Plan weekly cash flow including sales pipeline and expected sales and/or deposits.
  • Involve Sales in collections efforts, if possible.
  • Providing additional tools to shorten sales cycles, such as “one-time” or time-limited offers, coupons, etc. may help edge customers to close sooner.
  • If customer expectations aren’t being met, due to late shipments or other issues, communicate to sales and engage them in the customer communication.
  • Offer support and respect. If customer expectations aren’t met and/or sales numbers are off, Sales typically has a more direct pocketbook effect.
    • Depending on the competitiveness of the sales team, a contest may excite them.
    • Provide more recognition for landing a particular customer or improving the speed of a sales close etc.
    • Maintain motivation – it is generally not a good time to revamp the commission structure or cut marketing support (i.e. no sales literature)
    • Temporarily change the advance policy, if production is slowing the sales commission cycle.
    • Consider adjustment to sales compensation when cancellations increase due to slow production.
    • Ask for additional sales and marketing input on shortening the sales cycle or presenting a cost-effective strategy for a new market.

Production

In a cash flow crunch, Production must do more with less. How can they get the product through the cycle faster, allowing quicker billing and collections?  On the surface:

  • Plan weekly cash flow including optimizing the production requirements with the fastest completion, billing, and collections.
  • Identify key inventory shortages hindering production/shipments and include them in the weekly cash planning. This may require ordering in smaller quantities increasing price per unit.
  • Engage the shop floor team to suggest process streamlining or scheduling changes to increase available hours at straight time rates with changes in vacation schedules or shift work adjustments.

Manage your Response to the Cash Flow Crisis

In my experience, cash flow problems bring out either the best or worst. By applying some of these ideas and others you may think of, you can present a confident and calm leader reducing the stressors on your team and yourself.


Featured image by caio_triana. Post images by stevepb and Pexels. Images via Pixabay – licensed under public domain.

4 Business Lessons from Military Failures

Much has been written, likening the military strategy to leadership strategy in business. After all, stakes are high, both involve teamwork and strong leadership. We all know, the negotiating table can often feel like a battlefield.

At the same time, for most of us, business isn’t a matter of life or death. But when your livelihood and the security of your company is on the line, it can still feel critical. Failure and little mistakes leave us vulnerable and can cost us dearly.

So, as business leaders, what can we learn from examining some business lessons from military failures?

Business Lessons from Military Failures: What Causes Failed Operations?

The underlying cause of failed operations whether in the military or in your company are typically due to four mistakes:

  • Underestimating the need for innovation
  • Hubris
  • Groupthink, or
  • A lack of cross-functional involvement

Let’s examine examples of each of these points from the past, to avoid pitfalls and pinpoint questions you should be asking of your team and company (and yes, the leadership). Here are some business lessons from military failures that we can all consider.

Underestimating the Need for Innovation

Army helmets on the ground.The first critical mistake is the Inability to recognize innovation and adjust tactics to meet the new challenge.

Battle of Trebia – 218 BC – the Carthaginian forces led by Hannibal defeated a significantly larger Roman force.  The opposing general, Tiberius, failed to recognize that Hannibal was using innovation to provoke a frontal assault leading the Romans into a trap.

Do you find yourself using phrases like, We’re “top of the line”?  We’re the “industry leader”.  Nobody “beats us in the market”.  The “competition has nothing on us”.  You may want to double check your mindset (and your rearview mirror).  Expand your thinking to ask questions about the competition, the economy, your team, and your products.

Hubris

Resting on your laurels, over-confidence, and pride can lead to ignoring problems until it’s too late. Many business leaders are foiled by hubris leading to the belief that superior capabilities would drive success.

Dien Bien Phu – 1952 – The French leader, Navarre, underestimated the capabilities of the Viet Minh forces led by Giap. Advisors assured him that superior technical and logistical capabilities would overcome Giap’s four-to-one fighting force advantage.  Navarre ignored evidence of impediments to success such as physical location (they took the low ground) and supply line difficulties (all supplies and reinforcements were airlifted) while underestimating the skill and courage of Giap’s leadership.  Hubris led to failure.

Ask yourself, are you “too big to fail”?  Are you “at the top of your game”?  Do you have the competition “shaking in their boots”?  Do you have “the best products in the market”?  You might need to rethink if this is hubris or reality. Even the largest, stable and mighty can easily fall by underestimating their vulnerabilities.

Groupthink

Young military cadet in uniform with his hand over his heart.

Limited input results in groupthink ending in multiple failure points. From the bottom to the top, every member of your team may offer valuable insight and feedback. If you’re assuming everyone in your company is with you, look around to ensure you aren’t standing alone.

Bay of Pigs – 1961 — The CIA and US military sent an invasion force into Cuba to overthrow Fidel Castro.  With the CIA’s dominance, groupthink led to inadequate planning and anticipation.   The CIA exceeded its capabilities, resulting in failure.  Failure points included: risks not properly assessed, nor data competently collected or analyzed; poor internal communication, including language barriers; a lack of organization and management of participants and processes; lack of appropriate skills, training and staff and finally a lack of stable policies and/or contingency plans.

Is everyone “on board” with your decision?  Of course, you’ve “fleshed out” the alternatives? Have you done this “a million times before”?  Do you have “all your ducks in a row”?  Is this “easily transferable” to a new market?  You might need to rethink – is this groupthink or reality?

Cross-Functional Involvement & Communication

It’s not uncommon to see businesses with multiple teams operating in silos of mission and communication. Does your marketing team know what sales is up to? Is your HR team on board with new initiatives? Do you hold company-wide meetings with clear communication to make sure the right hand knows what the left is up to?

Operation Eagle Claw – 1982 – This was the US attempt by a combined effort of multiple military branches to rescue the 52 US Embassy hostages.  It was unsuccessful and resulted in the loss of life and the desecration of service members’ bodies.  While poor training and weather conditions contributed, post operation review revealed that the service branches failed to act cohesively primarily due to poor planning and a flawed command structure.  Each branch was in the silo of only its mission, not the overall mission. As a result of the various services’ failure to form cohesive teams, the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) was formed and each service has special forces under its command.

So, “everyone knows what’s going on”.  You’re all “on the same team”.  You’re all “on the same page”.  My people “have it handled”.  Of course “our mission is clear”.  My managers “know where I want them to go”.  You might need to look closer – are you providing the leadership and communication along with setting the example and incentives to assure team participation?

Don’t fall into any of these common traps.  Keep an open mind and critically evaluate the reality of your company.  Each of these examples took a limited perspective that ended in disaster – whether through holding the status quo, arrogance, lack of critical input or operating in silos.

Assigning a devil’s advocate role along with asking more questions about your company and team performance will help avoid learning these four lessons the hard way.

RMR Analysts can help you ask the right questions.


Featured photo by AETC; post photos by Goh Rhy Yanisrael palacio; via Unsplash.

You Can’t Handle the Truth: The Importance of Honesty at Work

Are you getting the honesty you need from your employees at work? Here are some tips on the importance of honesty and how to get your employees on board with always telling the truth.

You may believe you both WANT and GET the truth from your team members, but do you really?

Your day-to-day operations probably don’t have life and death consequences like the plot of A Few Good Men. In the film, the lead character knows the truth and as others are trying to uncover it, he shouts, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Well, can you handle the truth in your organization? More importantly, do you have a culture supporting truthful disclosures (good and bad) and encouraging identification of problems? Do you reward your team for doing the right thing? Good leadership encourages the truth.  The importance of honesty at work and in corporate culture is key. Reward systems and behavior modeled by leadership encourage robust discussions, leading to better decisions and greater success.

To take an example from today’s headlines – How many at NBC knew about the button in Matt Lauer’s office but didn’t question its function?  Someone approved the installation. Someone fostered, allowed and even modeled behavior leading to issue rearing up.  A press release and damage control aren’t necessary in a company that models the truth.

Do You Encourage Honesty in All Situations?

The truth is often painful. Frequently it points to places where “we should have known better.”  It takes a strong leader to accept the ultimate responsibility rests on his or her shoulders.  So, can you handle the truth in your organization? Are there subtle (and not-so-subtle) “hints” to the right answer?

In the Dale Carnegie-style Training of Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, he identified 20 habits we develop as we climb the corporate ladder.  Most of these habits serve us well during our growth phase, but later become impediments to running an organization where the truth lives.

They fall into three categories:

  • Winning too much –do we argue because we believe our view is right or do we argue simply to win? Do we add the word “however” to stifle further discussion; or do we exhibit impatience as ideas are presented or discussed to show we’re way ahead of their thought process?
  • “I‘m better than you” – Do we fail to recognize the contributions of others; claim more credit than we earned; make excuses; or do we refuse to apologize (unlike “Gibbs’ rule” in NCIS: “sorry” isn’t a sign of weakness)? Do we refer to past glories at the expense of others; play favorites or always feel the need to “add value.”
  • Power plays – Are we constantly passing judgment, adding cutting remarks designed to undermine, speaking in anger to induce fear or withholding information? Do we add the “why it won’t work” addendum?

These behaviors are “all about ME” behaviors and stifle the development of new ideas.  These examples should get you thinking about the subtleties in your actions that discourage the truth. Which of your behaviors are sending the message the boss is always right?

Model the Importance of Honesty for Your Team

Do your best to emphasize the importance of truth and encourage your employees to use truth at work.As the CEO or President, the buck stops with you. Your team looks to your example as a leader. Do you encourage and embrace the truth in your interactions with your team? It’s not always easy to examine our own behavior, but it presents a powerful lesson. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • When someone brings up a contrary opinion, do you explore it, or do you launch into a justification of your decision?
  • Do you listen as intently to the executive who supports your positions, as you do to the team member who raises counterpoints?
  • Do you seek out open-minded team members who are willing to experiment with new ideas to see how they may work in day-to-day operations?
  • Do you ever “shoot the messenger?”
  • Does your pet-project get all the funding while other ideas languish?
  • Do you go to lunch, the club, golfing or other activities with the select few team members who always parrot your ideas?
  • Do you make jokes at the expense of others, especially those that don’t agree with you?
  • Have you ever used sarcasm to teach someone a lesson?

Most importantly, does your culture support truthful disclosures (good and bad), encourage identification of problems, and reward your team for doing the right thing?

Many of the questions you should explore, revolve around leadership behavior.  Does leadership at ALL levels of the organization promote the seeking out of problems and resolving them before they become issues?

Can You Handle the Truth? Take a Hard Look

If these ideas have you wondering about the culture of truth in your office, the next questions identify your relationship with hard truths. Do you understand the importance of honesty in your leadership-style? If you answer “NO” to more than 3 of the following questions, you can presume that people believe “you can’t handle the truth,”

Can you handle the truth?

  • Can you handle the truth? Your employees should know the importance of truth at work. As a leader, always encourage truth among your team.

    Can any team member question a policy or leadership decision without direct, or worse indirect, repercussions?

  • Are questions immediately addressed as they arise, regardless of who brings them up? Are they only addressed with urgency if the “right” people bring them up?
  • With whom do you address issue? If a required change involves more than one department, are all who have a stake in the decision included in the analysis?
  • Do you have a process to resolve differences of opinion?
  • Whom do you promote? The person who agrees with you?
  • Do you assign a devil’s advocate position for any major decision? Similar to high school debate – what information supports the opposite position, especially for your pet-project.
  • Do you regularly talk to front-line staff, soliciting input without judgment?
  • Do you make decisions at the right level of the organization? No micro-managing?
  • Do team members have policies within which to operate? Are the values of the organization clear and does each team member know the values in relation to their role and actions?
  • Do you regularly form cross-functional teams to solve problems, including those not directly affected?
  • Do you seek information from multiple sources? Do you rely on one person’s interpretation subjecting yourself to his or her possible agenda?
  • Do you practice humility – pointing out individual contributions, admit when you are wrong, and apologize readily?

I am not promoting management by consensus, but rather pointing out the importance of raising and thoroughly discussing options and issues. Most importantly, be aware of the subtle signals you send as a leader… people notice!

These behaviors are not easy! I’ll admit to often failing at them myself when I had too much invested in the decision, was in a hurry to implement protocol…and sometimes just because.  Being aware is critical.

Corporate culture, reward systems and leadership behavior-modeling all play a role in robust discussions that lead to better decisions.

Modeling the truth is a top-down requirement.  The importance of honesty at work can’t be understated. Without cohesive policies and behavior followed at all levels of the organization, the truth will remain hidden until it becomes a headline.


Featured photo by Headway on Unsplash. Post photo by Antenna on Unsplash.