By Dan Sullivan, president and co-founder, Strategic Coach, www.strategiccoach.co.uk
Delegation is something of a well worn topic in business, with entire human-resource driven educational courses devoted to how to do it effectively. However the concept of delegation and its potential benefits are very, very different for owner-managers of SME businesses than for employees or even corporate CEO’s.
To answer the question of why this is the case, we can refer to the first sentence of Adam Smith’s ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations’ (written in 1776). According to Smith, the essence of industrialism was defined by the fact that the division of labour creates a significant increase in productivity. With his famous example of the manufacturing of pins, he theorised that the specialisation and concentration of workers on single subtasks leads to far greater skill and productivity than is achieved by the same number of workers each carrying out the original range of tasks.
So for employees, the point is that they streamline the range of operations they are responsible for, to allow them to build up specific skills and efficiency. There are obvious drawbacks however; a varied job is often precisely what many staff today find rewarding and interesting, after all, not everyone is stationed on a factory production line. Yet the principle holds true, and for entrepreneurs is uniquely valuable.
The number one reason that people start their own business is for the freedom it supposedly affords, and yet I would argue, the majority find themselves constrained by their company. For example, the number of days holiday per year taken by SME owners is far below the national average, largely due to the sheer number and range of functions they have to oversee to maintain the organisations productivity. Yet entrepreneurs and owner managers are in a genuinely unique position; they have more power to decide what their jobs should entail than anyone else in the entire economy.
Because owner-managers are able to decide this, they are uniquely positioned to focus their time on what we 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.
The fact is that our natural ability on certain tasks can be divided into incompetence, competence, excellence and unique ability. The first two are self explanatory, but excellent abilities encompass those activities for which a business owner has a great level of skill, but no passion. Though superior results may be achieved in these areas, they leave the entrepreneur drained of energy and unenthused, whereas performing in areas of Unique Ability generates excitement and energy and the desire to do more. Excellent activities will often win praise and reward but ultimately can present a trap in that they keep an entrepreneur from focusing fully on their Unique Abilities, where they have the greatest potential to create unmatched value for clients, colleages and customers.
The most successful entrepreneurs spend most of their time working in their areas of excellence and unique ability - never kid yourself that anyone is brilliant at everything, no-one is, and you shouldn’t try to be.
In my experience, when entrepreneurs have spent ten years or more developing their Unique Abilities they begin to think, communicate and perform these activities at a level often perceived by other people to be equivalent to genius.
The entreprenurial world is incredibly different to the educational system we spent our childhoods in. Many people were taught that the secret to success is to work hard on your weaknesses. In my experience that just means people get to the end of their lives and careers with a set of really strong weaknesses.
A simple excericise 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 in the world 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. They instead delegate these jobs to other people whose unique ability matches the tasks they are asked to perform.
In additon 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 - an incredibly rare feeling in the entrepreneurial world.