05/04/2012

By Dan Sullivan, Founder And President Of Strategic Coach

Delegation is something of a well-worn topic in business, with entire courses devoted to how to do it effectively. But for entrepreneurs, the potential benefits of delegation are an entirely different proposition than for employees or blue-chip chief executives.

In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argues the essence of industrialism was defined by the fact that the division of labour creates a significant increase in productivity. He argued that the specialisation and concentration of workers on single sub-tasks leads to far greater skill and productivity than can be achieved by the same number of workers each carrying out the original range of tasks.

The main reason people start businesses is for the freedom it supposedly affords, and yet, in my experience, the majority of owner-managers find themselves constrained by their company. For example, the number of days’ holiday taken annually by SME owners is far below the legal minimum afforded to employees, largely due to the sheer number and range of functions they have to oversee to maintain their organisation’s productivity. Yet entrepreneurs have more power to decide what their jobs entail than anyone else in the entire economy.

This should leave them well positioned to focus their time on what I call their ‘Unique Ability’. Unique Ability activities are those that we absolutely love doing, that give us more energy than they consume, and continue to produce greater levels of skill and better results in relation to the amount of time we invest.

I divide people’s natural ability on any given task into four categories: incompetence; competence; excellence; and unique ability. The first two are self-explanatory, and ‘excellence’ encompasses activities for which you have a great level of skill, but no passion.

Though superior results may be achieved in area of excellent ability, they leave you drained of energy and unenthused, whereas performing in areas of Unique Ability generates excitement, energy and the desire to do more. ‘Excellent’ activities will often win praise, but ultimately present a trap. They keep an entrepreneur from focusing fully on the activities where they have the greatest potential to create unmatched value for colleagues and customers.

Many people have been taught that the secret to success is to work hard on your weaknesses. In my experience that just means you get to the end of your life and career with a set of really strong weaknesses.

A simple exercise to try is to list, over a couple of weeks, all the activities your role as a business owner currently includes, and then categorise them according to your level of skill and enjoyment.

The best entrepreneurs have discovered that the real key to success is to focus as much of their time as possible on their unique ability, and delegate everything else. They waste the absolute minimum amount of time in areas where they are incompetent, competent, or even excellent. Instead, they delegate these tasks to other people with Unique Abilities in these areas.

In addition to greater professional performance and productivity, and the growth in revenue these entail, owner-managers that work only in these areas will experience a greater sense of simplicity and ease - an incredibly rare feeling for those running a business.


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