Evolving Beyond a One-Person Show

The decision to grow your business by delegating duties requires a genuine commitment on your part to see it through.

The typical kitchen and bath remodeler got into the business with a vision of making a living in an industry that allows us to combine design and creativity with financial success. Few of us come from large corporate backgrounds, where business is conducted within the context of a structured organization. Instead, we've each discovered, largely by trial and error, what it takes to make our dream work in the day-to-day real world.

Like most small business owners, once the enterprise is under way, we become caught up in managing day-to-day functions, problems and successes that come at an ever-increasing speed. All this, of course, leaves little time for long-range planning or thinking about where our business might be headed.

However, there's a real danger here: For small businesses, this cycle of urgency ultimately leads to a situation in which the owner reaches the limit of his or her ability to control all aspects of the business, and growth stalls.

Examine your revenue figures for the last few years. If you see a pattern of sales that's up one year, only to fall back the next, the cause is probably that you're "maxed" out. In many ways, that's understandable. In a business where a single, major mistake can wipe out a year's profit, most owners prefer to make most of the serious decisions themselves. In short, our situations transform us into "control freaks."

In this column, I'll look at how we can break through this ceiling if growth is our goal. I'll also take a look at a process that enables us to determine what to delegate and what to hang on to and how to accomplish a delegation of duties.

The first decision

Before you begin to contemplate the delegation process, it's necessary to again answer the question of where you want your business to go. As we've seen with so many basic business questions, the question of growth is a "crossroads" issue. To answer this question, you should ask yourself the following:

  • What are the things you most like to do?

  • Can you get satisfaction from "big-picture" accomplishments without actually handling the hands-on aspects of your business?

  • Can you tolerate financially and emotionally serious mistakes that are made by others?

  • Do you enjoy supervising and motivating others?

  • Are you a risk-taker?

If you're prepared step back from the front lines of your business and hand some real responsibility to others, then you're ready to begin the transition from a one-person show to the type of organization that can grow to accommodate an ever-increasing volume of business.

While an ever-expanding business can offer opportunities for personal growth and financial reward, it usually comes with an increased level of stress. It also means having to let go of many of the things that you've always considered your strengths, and which perhaps have even given you a sense of identity.

Attempting to make this transition is not something you should undertake without careful consideration. After all, there's nothing wrong with a smaller, stable business that earns a regular profit and provides you with a steady income.

What to delegate

Once you've decided you wish to delegate, begin with the list of questions above; finish it by listing not only the things you like to do, but also those you hate to do.

Now review the list and honestly note which of these items really have to be done by you. Obviously, how you mark the list will depend on the staff resources you have available to you.

Once you've prioritized your list, you're in a position to determine how you might reorganize your business to allow you to focus your attention on those areas that are really important to business growth. The list will also have provided you with the basis of a job description for a person to whom you can begin the delegation process.

This may seem pretty basic, but how many of us still find ourselves changing light bulbs, hauling material or picking up the mail?

By identifying all the tasks that your business needs to accomplish, and matching them up with the least experienced person capable of performing each task, you'll find that the most important tasks wind up with the most capable people, and that you'll wind up focused on those things which truly require your attention.

Staying on track

Keep in mind that this process of "pushing down" responsibility must be an ongoing process. As your organization grows, you'll need to make sure that it becomes part of your "culture," and happens as a matter of course.

Your business will need to begin to utilize paperwork and procedures which had been avoided as it evolves to an organization where work is broken down into tasks and your staff members become specialists instead of generalists.

While this characterization may seem stark, it points out the necessity of establishing ways of communicating with each other that are more formal and provide the kind of documentation organizational charts, job descriptions, schedules, purchase orders, etc. that are necessary to function in this fashion

Delegation involves setting up systems and processes that allow you, and your managers, to be able to operate with some assurance that the overall business is moving in the desired direction. It also means that individuals within the organization will need to be able to perform a portion of the overall task without completely understanding how it fits into that bigger picture.

All this is not to diminish the benefit of making sure that each member of your team understands how your business accomplishes its goals and makes a profit. As with any team, all members should understand and be committed to the team goals and understand how the team functions as a whole. They also need to understand that any team's success requires that all members of the team know and can execute their role to the best of their ability.

The decision to grow your business by delegating some responsibilities is a serious one, and will require a commitment on your part to see it through. You'll have to resist the temptation to jump back in and take things over if you ever expect those with new responsibilities to take "ownership" of them.

Delegation may not lessen your own responsibilities, but it can certainly give you a renewed sense of accomplishment.