Entrepreneurs: Learn to Delegate to Capable Employees


The “take charge” attitude that permeates a builder’s very makeup is easily channeled and tempered with proper direction and focus. Avoiding “one man rule” tendencies is as easy as one word: delegation. The effective executive delegates rather than performing all critical tasks. However, successful delegation requires that responsibility and authority also be delegated. Herein lies a problem for the executive–“hands off” management.

An experienced founder’s abilities and characteristics relate to starting and preserving a good business idea. Chief among those abilities would be creating a vision for the company, which is usually unstated but somehow understood. While it may seem a chore for others in the company, projecting a confident and self-assured image that appeals to prospective buyers  comes naturally to the experienced executive.

Additionally, identification of market opportunities and provision of top notch service to meet customer needs are focal points of the founder’s vision. Unfortunately, the ability to create a workable organization to achieve company goals and objectives may prove more elusive. The business owner who possesses the innate skill to attract others to pursue an unwritten vision may lack the skill to build an efficient organization.


Clearly, employees are critical to the success of profit maximization in any business; it is their effort that keeps the wheels of progress turning. Most employees have spent careers in similarly sized (small) companies in the same industry setting–be that white collar or blue collar–with limited exposure to alternate environments. Consequently, their frame of reference in employer/employee relationships amounts  to that which the founder and, where applicable, previous employers have provided.  With limited cross-training in other professional disciplines, these members of the team have the least job flexibility and therefore generally welcome changes in work flow patterns that can make their jobs appreciably easier and more effective.

Job Specialization

While cross training or shared skill sets occur as a matter of necessity, job specialization is a focus of many small businesses. A certain “pride of ownership” can arise from this high degree of specialization. Fiercely loyal, most employees would rather sacrifice some temporary perks rather than leave a benevolent employer “high and dry” in a time of financial duress. Since the employees tend to be skill-oriented, they require a great deal of direction in defining work assignments. At the same time, they spend a lot of time observing the founder and mimicking his or her efforts; if the entrepreneur is a go-getter, they will learn to hustle on the job in order to meet production requirements. In short, employees can be extremely valuable in performing the legwork that makes the business optimization a reality.

Employee Responsibilities

Employees are required to adhere to schedules, commit to the strategic plan, be willing to work long hours, and be brand ambassadors of the company in the community. Schedules governing production, documentation, and reporting must be religiously followed to ensure optimal work efficiencies. Time, budget, and administration constraints are to be respected and emphasized among employees and their  supervisors.

Mindful of how they represent the company, your people are the “front line” experience that others have with your brand. Whether buying from suppliers, meeting with customers, or serving in a local non-profit, they have an opportunity to make you look great–or not.

When company plans cause inconveniences for employees, it should be up to the employees themselves to raise the issue with their superiors. Once they have been given the right to voice their opinions and concerns, they should be expected to fall in line with the plan. Failure to follow established guidelines should not be tolerated. Without respect of your core values, your employees should be replaced by those who can carry your banner proudly!


Management Direction and the Turnaround

With the necessary financial and operational restructuring, plus the marketing re-positioning, it is easy to overlook a key factor that often proves to be critical to successful turnarounds: staff motivation. Reorganizing and involving not just the management team, but also the rank-and-file  are two essential tasks. The entire company must be pulling in the same direction to achieve optimal success. Involvement creates a “can-do” atmosphere that spreads to vendors, customers, and other stakeholders.

Involving Staff

It is imperative that appropriate changes be made to show that the executive team is committed to “doing whatever it takes.” Key employees should be encouraged to take an active role in the turnaround process, ensuring that they feel they are a vital part of the solution. Regularly scheduled management meetings are the new norm. In times of crisis, these meetings may need to occur daily; in profitable times biweekly should be adequate. Finding yourself and the team somewhere between crisis and optimization may be reason to vary the frequency of meetings, but they should never be more sporadic than once every two weeks.


Do not be afraid to ask employees their opinions about what motivates them to perform. These opinions can be used to develop performance measurements and incentive plans. Scrutiny of company policy manuals and benefits offered can help identify ways to enhance engagement. Also, discovering the most frequently encountered problems can reveal how managers are applying–or failing to apply–useful solutions. Project descriptions, summaries of the company’s performance in adhering to budget and time constraints, and brainstorming time to recommend better methods are good synergy building activities.


Some companies like to administer tests of ability to prospective employees. Yet, once the prospects are hired, there is very little training and development. Close supervision should yield observations about areas for improvement. It is the responsibility of management to find ways to challenge employees to grow in their capabilities–both technical and soft skills–throughout their careers. Developing professional growth plans and holding folks accountable to execute them is good for all. Tying performance measurement to the plans shows employees that you are serious about continuous improvement and results-based management.


The team is also responsible for cultivating the management team concept in hiring employees, meeting goals and objectives, and conducting individual performance reviews. In addition, management’s performance should be reviewed to locate and remove any team members who are preventing goals and objectives from being met.

Hiring people who complement one another is the first step in forming a cohesive management team. Effective hiring is accomplished through a careful planning and implementation process that parallels the general turnaround effort. Write down job requirements before the hiring process begins. Solicit qualified candidates; throw out applications/resumes that are out of scope. Referrals from suppliers and customers tend to be the best sources of candidates. Objective measurement of qualifications against standards you have developed will shorten the list to be interviewed. Personal references and one-on-one assessments with the prospect’s proposed work team will verify compatibility.

Employee participation in the decision-making process is needed–more so during a turnaround. While key employees should be encouraged to contribute actively during meetings, they may not be asked to vote on issues affecting them directly. Meetings should also be an opportunity to thank employees for a job well done. Rewarding a manager for adherence to budget and schedule without also recognizing her team detracts from the team concept.

Reorganizing Staff

Reassigning personnel and restructuring responsibilities demands management team decision-making. Decisions about incentive and performance programs require outside assistance in so far as tax and legal consequences are concerned, but the ideas and proposals should come from management team meetings.

Management should not exclude themselves from the reassignment process! It may be that the president, for instance, is most valuable to the company in a different capacity or focus area. Like all staff members, she should be prepared (especially during a turnaround) to work in a role where strengths can be put to maximum use!


How Successful Businesses Maintain Organizational Morale



Organizational morale builds quality products (and services). Employees who are well-paid, well-trained, and appreciated work harder than those who are merely trying to earn a living. Giving employees more and more responsibility as they develop skills and gain experience makes them feel wanted and valuable. training employees to do their jobs expertly teaches them the value of quality performance. Finally, rewarding an employee for continuing contributions to company profitability reinforces the company’s goals, mission, and objectives.

Some of the benefits to organizational morale include the following:

  • Employees are willing to work longer hours to ensure that a job is done correctly.
  • Customer service and sales are carried out with positive attitudes. As the company makes more money from these quick and repeat sales, the business can afford to hire the cream of the crop in employees. The appearance to anyone outside the operation is that of a well-oiled machine.
  • Rather than fending off mercenary plots and complaints all day long, management can plan for upcoming projects, ensuring the best use of employees’  talents.
  • Striving and bitter rivalries are easily ended when all employees are treated impartially and fairly.
  • Quality control is much easier to enforce with a group of hard-working, motivated workers than with uncaring employees who are simply filling a slot.


Truly effective training and development programs make good employees out of average employees, and great employees out of good ones. When an employer takes the time and effort to teach employees how to perform their jobs better, employees usually respond with increased effort on the job.  Bonds between management and employees are created as an employee gains a greater sense of self worth. The employee begins to feel that his or her contribution to the overall business matters and is important.


Employees in successful companies have two types of responsibility–to their peers and to their bosses. Each is important to a smooth-running company. However, responsibility can prove an albatross around the neck of the employee who lacks the corresponding authority to make decisions. Good employers will therefore not only be creative in assigning work to employees, but also in providing the best possible environment for them–including adequate authority where appropriate–to help them succeed. Reporting to management helps employees feel they must do a good job and that someone is around who can help them if the going gets rough. Being accountable to peers in addition to bosses teaches employees to respect one another’s work and to learn how to work together to reach common goals.

Motivation and Reward

Bonus and incentive compensation programs are the rewards of excellent employee performance. Rather than threatening to discipline or even dismiss a problem employee, it is often better to motivate employees through encouragement. Fear of failing will not lead to successful work attitudes and performance–it will only lead to ultimate failure. On the other hand, building up an employee’s confidence has proven much more effective than criticism in raising performance levels. 

Once an employee has performed at or beyond the established level, successful management teams find a way to reward the employee. Not rewarding someone who has done everything requested and more makes the employee wonder a.) whether he/she has indeed done a good job, b.) whether the supervisor is a good enough manager to recognize the employee’s contributions, and c.) whether a “change of scenery” may be preferable. However, bonuses and incentives must reflect current and projected financial performance. A company experiencing financial loss must have a flexible plan to adjust employee compensation as necessary. 

A successful company becomes a self-perpetuating entity–the more successful it becomes, the more successful it can become. Executive teams who maintain high organizational morale and plan for growth will create positive cash flow from efficient operations. While your business may not be in a position to always do what larger businesses do, remember to run your organization in a professional manner any you will meet with greater success!


How Do Successful Businesses Manage Their Operations?

After working hard on the marketing plan and the financial plan, successful executive teams develop operating plans to implement them. These are the plans that ultimately result in successfully bringing one’s idea into the marketplace–and profits into the owner’s pocket. Staffing, office administration, and work flow supervision are the primary needs. Successful businesses anticipate problems and take steps immediately to improve workflow efficiency. Supervisors and budgets are assigned to control costs. If necessary, outside fractional help is secured to make sure that appropriate resources are allocated to the best potential outcomes. In addition, the top executive may recommend steps financial and marketing teams can take to enhance overall productivity–and, by extension, profitability. For example, organizations that offer and sell the same or similar goods or services over and over usually see fewer cost overruns and therefore generate more profit per unit of sale.

Staffing a business with the correct number and types of employees makes your workplace both productive and more enjoyable. Sprinkle in some training and development and you demonstrate care and concern for your people. Create feedback loops and engagement will soar. Successful organizations increase or decrease staff levels as operating plans require. Outsourced human resources–whether through independent contractors, fractional professional staff, or subcontracting–allows your company to optimize human resources for any level of work necessary. Making preparations to finish existing projects while beginning new ones and documenting how the work will be accomplished will focus your efforts.

Administering a variety of initiatives simultaneously places certain demands on office staff as well. A successful executive team thinks through the documentation needs of the organization and assigns responsibilities to appropriate personnel. Institutional knowledge is thereby captured for the benefit of all and adjustments become easier to make. Well-organized files–physical and electronic–are another vital component to smooth business operations and can eliminate wasted time and effort, as well as reinforce best practices!

Successful supervision of field (or plant or billable or development) personnel involves more than simply the “management by walking around” approach of yore. Think about technology as a means to do more with less. Creatively brainstorm as to how to maximize the benefits of being face-to-face versus virtual–it’s a trade-off of time, money, and precious additional resources. Recruiting and hiring should reflect an effort to add to the team those who are the best cultural fit rather than simply strong technicians who may undermine the esprit de corps. Compensation and performance management systems should reinforce your value system–not stand separate from it. Think of processes like equipping, quality management, customer service, coaching, mentoring, motivating as key factors in your success. When you do, plans can be made to enable your organization’s operations to become efficient and profitable.

Delegating By Degrees is Effective Leadership

In advising private businesses, I am frequently trying to help owners delegate more effectively to their teams. It is hard to get the executives to give up making all the decisions. Making fewer decisions is part of the challenge; influencing less decisions is even harder.

Sergio Zyman, the former Chief Marketing Officer at Coca-Cola, in his book “The End of Marketing As We Know It,” wrote about the decision making process he used with his team, broken down into 5 levels:

  • Level 1 – His decision with no input from the team
  • Level 2 – His decision with input from the team
  • Level 3 – Consensus decision
  • Level 4 – A team member’s decision with his input
  • Level 5 – A team member’s decision with no input or influence from him

When other organizations have experimented with processes similar to Zyman’s, some employees found the five level decision making process difficult. Others perceived it as freeing because the knew in advance what was required to keep an initiative going.

Many organizations have a disproportionate number of Level 2 and Level 3 decisions. Level 5 is the least common. A critical success factor seems to be selectively choosing what to care about (not to be confused with apathy.) The evolution needs to be towards a focus on being involved personally only in decisions that are strategic in nature and require knowledge or experience unique to your role. What is likely to ensue is a new paradigm in which the executive’s willingness to let go creates unexpected, but still very positive outcomes. It may not look the way it would have with your hand print, but can still “work out.”