boss & employee

Successful Delegation to Drive Business Performance

As Accountants, we like to see our clients operating at high levels of efficiency and generating healthy profits.

However, one thing that prevents business owners from getting the most from their team is the failure to delegate work.

Many businesses invest a significant amount in human resources including compensation, recruiting, training and benefits so it’s important to use these resources wisely.

The most successful leaders might demonstrate boldness, clarity, flexibility, consistency, and communication skills… but high on the list is the ability to delegate.

What do we mean by delegation?

Delegation occurs when one team member requires another team member (usually a subordinate) to take on one or more of their tasks.

Why would we delegate?

The main reasons are:

  • Productivity: The delegating team member is now free to take on other tasks, presumably tasks which add more value to the business. This enables growth and efficiency.
  • Skills: Some people are more skilled at certain tasks than others. Wherever possible we want tasks allocated to the most skilled people because they will get the best outcomes.
  • Training: One way to learn a new skill is to practice it. Certain tasks can be delegated in order to develop the skills of other team members.

So why is delegating difficult?

Delegating means taking risks. Some people will not succeed at tasks delegated to them. That causes frustration for your team and maybe your customers. Time is wasted if tasks need to be redone. This encourages the philosophy that I may as well just do this myself. It’ll be quicker.

What are some Best Practices in delegation?

This has been studied at length by prominent thinkers such as Dr. Stephen Covey and others. Here are some ideas that may apply to delegation in your business.

1. Explain why the task is important

Delegation is more likely to succeed where people understand and acknowledge the IMPORTANCE of the task. On the other hand, a feeling that the task is irrelevant or something you just don’t WANT to do will encourage the wrong results. Explain who will benefit – like colleagues, the entire business, your customers, your vendors, etc. – and HOW they will benefit. The more measurable the benefits, the better.

2. Play to the team members’ strengths

Delegate to people who are likely to succeed with that task. There are never guarantees… and sometimes it’s appropriate to delegate challenging tasks. However, if there’s a strong chance of failure, delegation is probably not the best course.

3. Set the rules or guidelines

Delegation often fails when the scope of the task is poorly defined. Compare these examples:

Please get together all of the financial reports for my upcoming board meeting. Thanks.


Please get together all of the financial reports for my upcoming board meeting. The priority is the P&L and Balance Sheet and we won’t be needing the Cash Flow Analysis. I want to check over the P&L before you send it to all 6 board members. This should be complete by Friday morning at the latest. Please ensure the logo is correct and at the top right of each document. Thanks.

4. Provide resources

Building on the above example:

Take a look at the reports we used last month and please stick to that format. Jim can help with accessing the financials in the accounting system if you run into problems. Mary has the updated board member list. I’m always here if you run into any difficulties.

5. Make the outcomes measurable

You want to be very clear about when the job will be complete and the goal is reached. Here’s a bad example:

Can you look into the software we could use for an Employee Survey?

For one thing, there is no deadline and the instruction will trigger many questions. Is there a budget? Or any specific functionality we ‘must have’? What’s the timing for deployment? What’s wrong with the software we used last time? What did we learn from that experience?

The point is it’s difficult to create accountability unless you have some clear, measurable outcomes. And accountability is good for both parties.

6. Show there are consequences

Be clear on what will happen (good and bad) if the task is completed (or not completed) properly. You want your colleague to feel invested in the outcome. They should share in the success of the project but also be responsible for any failure. This will lead to a more focused and diligent approach.

7. Put things in writing (and follow up)

This reduces the possibility of confusion and creates a record of your request. For repeatable tasks, you will also build a template which can be reused.

8. Trust!

Everyone starts somewhere. Even the most accomplished people have failed at certain tasks previously. But somehow they learned, probably because someone entrusted a task to them. Mistakes will be made and patience may be required. A good leader will understand the risk associated with the task and manage this carefully. They will also recognize that there is great value in empowering an employee to do something independently.

There’s no doubt that most managers could delegate a lot more work which would free them to focus on more productive tasks. That’s good for them and the business as a whole. It’s also good for we Accountants who like to see more profitable clients!

Your Definition of Success

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