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When to Delegate? Try the 70 Percent Rule

If you don't learn to embrace the art of delegation, you won't be able to build your business. The 70 percent rule gives you guidance on how to do it well.

So when do you delegate a task? This central question stops many CEOs from moving tasks to their team. They wait until someone else is able to complete the tasks as well as they and thus doom themselves to owning that task forever.

Smart CEOs, on the other hand, use the "70 percent rule." Put simply, if the person the CEO would like to perform the task is able to do it at least 70 percent as well as he can, he should delegate it. Is it frustrating that the task won't be done with the same degree of perfection or perceived perfection that the CEO himself could achieve? Sure! But let go of perfection. Is it easier said than done? Yes, certainly. But there is no place for perfection when it comes to delegation. The upside for the CEO is that he doesn't need to spend any time on the task--zero. The "return on time" doesn't spend on that task is infinite, in addition to gaining that same time to invest in a higher impact project.

Part of the delegation process involves knowing what you want to accomplish and then letting people know what is needed to get it done. Then it's time for perhaps the most difficult part of delegation--letting go and trusting that your team members will take the ball and run with it. This requires an understanding that they may do it in a way completely different from how you would do it. To let go of perfection, you need to decide what's more important to you: having the work completed to "perfection" (the way you would do it), or having it completed successfully in a different way. You may even be surprised to find that when you give your team members a little leeway, they discover new--and better--ways to do things.

This 70 percent performance standard allows the CEO to aggressively move tasks to team members and have them perform the tasks at an acceptable level. Clearly there are some tasks that require a 100 percent performance level. The CEO will choose not to delegate these tasks. They could be transferred but with extensive support and training. In addition, one-on-one oversight may be required.

One important point is that if you delegate a task fully, you shouldn't try to coach up the receiver to get back that 30 percent difference. When it comes to effective delegation, not only does communication need to be clear, concise, and consistent, but also you need to make sure each team member has access to the same information. Trust is one of the most important factors when it comes to delegation, and it goes both ways. You need to trust that your team members will complete the work they are responsible for, and your team members need to trust that you are giving them all the information they need to do the work. You will be available to back them up when necessary. Effective delegation can be the answer for the time-challenged small-business owner who is struggling to find the time to build his or her business. And when you take measures to set yourself up for an effective delegation process, you're not only giving yourself time to focus on your most vital business activities, but you're alleviating some of the pressure of always doing everything yourself. No Monday-morning quarterbacking either. If you do, you will suck the energy, passion, and ownership right out of the new task-owners and they will simply defer to the leader--and you will never really lose that task for yourself. Your goal is to delegate, recapture time for higher level tasks, develop your employees, and achieve success.

So, when you are considering delegation, ask yourself the question: "Can this person do it 70 percent as well as I would?" If so, it is time to let it go!

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IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Aug 14, 2014

JIM SCHLECKSER | Columnist

Jim helps leaders grow companies. He specializes in the issues that fast growth firms experience in their business models, talent, processes and systems as they reach higher levels of performance. Jim works with CEOs of high growth companies to identify and obliterate the things that stand between them and continued organizational success.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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