Related Terms: Span of Control
Delegation is the practice of turning over work-related tasks and/or authority to employees or subordinates. Small business owners often have difficulty with delegation for a variety of reasons, from concerns about the abilities of subordinates to long-standing "hands-on" management habits (a common characteristic of successful entrepreneurs). Indeed, "businesses founded on the creative talents of the owner often struggle with [delegation] because the success of the enterprise depends on the owner's style," wrote Linda Formichelli in Nation's Business. But small business consultants warn that owners who do not learn to delegate responsibilities and tasks often end up stunting their company's growth.
"Many managers think of delegation as a task—an activity to be carried out and forgotten. In reality, delegation is a process that makes up a critical component of successful management," wrote Janet Houser Carter in Supervisory Management. "To get work done with and through others, a manager must regularly give authority to his or her staffers. This shows staffers that the manager has faith in their abilities—which is what makes delegation such a powerful motivational tool."
A propensity for micromanagement—or nanomanagement, as it is sometimes called when applied to a small business firm—can have a deleterious impact on a company in a variety of ways. Moreover, many analysts contend that a lack of delegation can be particularly detrimental to the fortunes of smaller businesses. "In small, entrepreneurial companies, micromanagement by one person—typically the owner—can be especially growth-inhibiting because it can have a proportionately larger sweep through the firm than micro-management by one executive in a large company," wrote Formichelli. Business consultants thus counsel their clients to practice sensible delegation of tasks to their employees—even in instances where they might not do as good a job initially. "Employees can't learn unfamiliar tasks if they never get the chance to learn and practice them," noted Carter. "In the short term, it may make sense to do it yourself; over the long term, however, you save more time by showing others how to do the job."
Of course, not all tasks or responsibilities should be delegated to employees. Small business owners need to take care of basic strategic and planning issues themselves, and other management duties—conflict resolution, performance evaluations, etc.—should be delegated judiciously.
Business experts cite a number of specific problems that are often associated with companies that do not effectively delegate. These include:
Small business owners are encouraged to evaluate whether they are perhaps falling into the trap of micro-management. Consultants and entrepreneurs cite the following as major warning signs:
Effective delegation is ultimately predicated on ensuring that the company's workforce is sufficiently talented and motivated to take on the responsibilities that are delegated to them. "New entrepreneurs often have difficulty figuring out what kind of workers to hire," remarked Formichelli. "If the wrong people are hired, they require more training and supervision, which invites nanomanagement." Sound hiring practices and adequate training are thus universally regarded as major factors in establishing a healthy system of delegation. Once those aspects have been addressed, there are other considerations that can be studied as well. These include:
Ultimately, small business owners need to recognize that delegation can help a business grow and prosper, and that good employees, when used intelligently, can be a significant advantage in the marketplace. "The manager who wants to learn to delegate more should remember this distinction," wrote Thomas S. Bateman and Carl P. Zeithaml in Management: Function and Strategy. "If you are not delegating, you are merely doing things; the more you delegate, the more you are truly building and managing an organization."
Bateman, Thomas S., and Carl P. Zeithaml. Management: Function and Strategy. Irwin, 1990.
Bredin, Alice. "Delegating Tasks Can Free Up Time to Pursue Growth." Los Angeles Business Journal. 20 November 2000.
Carter, Janet Houser. "Minimizing the Risks from Delegation." Supervisory Management. February 1993.
Formichelli, Linda. "Letting Go of the Details." Nation's Business. November 1997.
Kelly, Kevin. "Sharing the Load: Sure, I Needed to Delegate More. But I Had to Learn How Far I Could Go." Fortune. 28 November 2005.
Pollock, Ted. "Delegation." Supervision. August 2005.
Weiss, W.H. "The Art and Skill of Delegating." Supervision. September 2000.