Delegating and letting go: this is how you do it

Sneak preview for international entrepreneurs.

Many entrepreneurs dislike the word "letting go" and think it is uncalled for. “I actually have to avoid letting go, my investors won’t even approve it. Letting go would mean that I no longer bother, that I am no longer concerned, that I am no longer involved.” On top of that, handing over work and letting go is not as easy as it seems. If you're very good at letting go, it's also not highly appreciated. An excellent, inspiring leader who builds an amazing team is often seen as a lucky one. “It's easy for you to talk, you simply have a good team.” The fact that it takes a lot of hard work and effort to build that " simply" good team and to keep it energetic is often not recognized. It seems to come naturally. The same applies to leaders who provoke minimal conflict or founders who “easily” get people to follow their vision. The skill of getting people on board is often seen as something you either have or you don't, something where luck comes into play. Fortunately, it isn't. You can organize it.

As entrepreneur, it is in our blood to take initiative, to come up with something and act on it. But for employees on your team, it is quite different. They usually scan: how does it work here? Who is in charge and who makes the decisions? Therefore, as long as they are not actually responsible, they often do not take ownership. Responsibility also entails the power to make decisions. If you cannot decide the matter as it happen, how can you take responsibility?

Because you have the power, it is necessary that you be explicit in where you give room to others. Make sure you really delegate, assign them to a position or a task and in doing so give them the feeling that you put it entirely in their control. After that, you also communicate that to the organization so that everyone knows that Piet or Johanna are the ones to turn to for those decisions. This does not mean that you no longer bother or that people can no longer ask you things. It means that you delegate the responsibility for that part and let go of how it is carried out in detail. Others are now responsible for that. Your job shifts toward coaching and leading them now.

These three guides help with this.

1.       Get people in position.

2.       Give feedback immediately.

3.       Be intolerant of incompetence.

1. Put people in position

When you start delegating, in the beginning other people will usually make more mistakes than you will. As an example, sometimes you already form a small management team with a part-time CFO (Chief Financial Officer) and an executive for software development, the R&D department or the retail manager. Every manager has to be "put in position”. By this I mean that you don't just appoint someone and say: "You're going to do this now," but you also adjust your own behavior accordingly.  You let go of whatever they are doing and they take on their role. If someone comes to consult with you on an issue that you have just handed over, be careful not to "take a seat" on the position of your co-worker that you have just appointed to that position.

Many entrepreneurs fall into the trap of appointing people and expecting them to take on their roles, but continue to march through the organization as if they haven't delegated anything. As an entrepreneur, when you go into the control room of your plant and ask questions of employees, you often have an undertone of, "Why are you doing it this way and not that way? That undertone sets people in motion. They are going to respond to your questions, to your suggestions. You may be happy about that, but you could risk undermining your newly appointed supervisor. Hence, for the first six months after an appointment, be sure to stay a bit more out of sight of the team that just has a new leader.

Be constantly aware that you have to bring someone into position. Not only by appointing them to the role, but also by adjusting your behavior structurally afterwards. Both in the way you manage and involve someone as well as in your behavior toward his or her team members. I have now given an example about managing supervisors, but this applies equally well to work such as website design, should you have done so, or creative decision making. The approach remains the same.

2. Give feedback immediately

Employees will do the work you hand over to them less well probably than you do, at least to your perception. In any case, they often do it differently than you would do it. If an employee does something not as well or differently than you expected, discuss it immediately and make it an open conversation by asking a question about it. I used to do it by syaing: 'I see you're doing it this way...' Maybe it's a genius new approach, maybe something someone still needs to learn, but discuss it. If you do that from the beginning, it also doesn't have as much negative connotation yet. You can still be surprised and the annoyance is often not that bad.

The key is curiosity and learning together. Many entrepreneurs have strong beliefs about others, and it helps to have an open conversation about it. Your role is to continually ask your employees about the steps they have taken to end up at the decisions they have taken and ideas they come up with. Your role is to look for the gaps and to see if they have considered all aspects. They will learn more from that than if you just say: "This is not a good idea and that is”. Try to enter the conversation with an inquisitive attitude: how can they think this is a good approach or a good idea? What assumptions have they made? Who did they talk to?

You move from doing most of it yourself to bringing structure to the organization, handing over tasks and letting others really pull the cart. The focus is on exploring how people come up with ideas, how they make decisions and helping them get better at it.

You're not just doing this to teach them how to possibly think more broadly or better, you also do this to see where the gaps are in your way of organizing, in your processes, in your business approach. It may be that this employee did not have the right information at his disposal, thought someone else had to decide or did not have enough experience to make the 'right' decision. What can you, as an entrepreneur, learn from this?

At the same time, try to be interested in what is happening to yourself: are you really interested in how they did it or are you checking to see if they are doing it your way? If you are concerned, just say so. In this way, you are giving others space and you are making them really good at their job.

Simultaneously, try to be aware of what is happening within yourself: are you really interested in how they did it or are you checking to see if they are doing it your way? If you are concerned, just say that too. In this manner, you are giving others space and you are making them become really good at their job.

3. Be intolerant of incompetence

It's all well and good to work on making people better, but sometimes the performance just isn't good enough. Then what? That's when you have to intervene.

In a fast-growing organization, you will find that you often have to start conversations with people who were super good at their role before and now "suddenly" are not anymore. The environment of the organization has become more complex, the company has changed, a team member who was covering the gaps has left, home circumstances have changed, the job has changed: there are often several reasons why someone's inability comes to the surface. And perhaps you are no longer the best leader yourself at this stage?

When the first signs appear, start with an open conversation. I have never experienced that someone did not already sense for themselves that it was not going well.

It's no fun for anyone, and especially not for the person it's about. Feeling your own inadequacy, not being able to do your job: that feels worthless. In order to deal with this we create all kinds of invisible lines of defense. We are often so afraid of the consequences that we prefer to ignore the issue. The problem is that it doesn't go away and the possibility of reaching a good solution together diminishes if you keep going on like the way it is.

It is braver to recognize your inability, communicate it and then seek an alternative together. That is what the employee in question needs to be told, and that is what you, as founder, can provide. That is your role. How do you help someone with this? Maybe this is someone who can function very well in another place, hopefully in your company. If that doesn't work out, help that person apply for another job, give them the time and space to do that. Keep someone working with you in the areas that do work well, until the switch has been achieved. If you are on time, it can all be done by mutual agreement.

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