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Delegate Responsibilities with Confidence

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Dave Mitchell took over the reins at Master Collision Repair from his parents in 1989. Mitchell grew the business’s monthly revenue from $20,000 to a whopping $200,000 within his first year.

That growth was great, Mitchell says of his Tampa, Fla.-based shop, but with growth comes a lot more work. He found himself working everyday—including Christmas and Thanksgiving. “I was doing everything,” Mitchell says. “I was at the shop early each morning, late each night, finished paint jobs, put cars back together, balanced repair tickets and wrote estimates.”

Mitchell knew he couldn’t keep that up forever—especially if the business continued to grow. And that’s exactly what Mitchell wanted to do. He was ready to sign a huge DRP contract with a major insurer.

While sitting in his office during a closed-door meeting with the insurance representative, Mitchell got a rude awakening: An employee burst through the door to tell him that the shop was out of hand cleaner. Dumbfounded, Mitchell knew just one thing: He had some cleaning up to do.

You Can’t Do It All

A common trend for business owners is the ideology that “nobody can complete a task as well as I can.” Sound familiar? Whether or not that’s true is a moot point, says Patrick Donadio, a business communications coach who teaches courses for the Automotive Management Institute (AMI). The question shop owners need to address is: “Can I do it all?” The obvious answer, when you’re not in the thick of the situation, is “no.”

There was a time when Mitchell believed he could answer that question with a “yes.” He spent 80 percent of his time doing things no shop owner should. (Remember the soap?)

Feeling like nobody can do things as well as you can is a barrier that prevents shop owners from letting go. “You have to get over that mental block,” Mitchell says. Otherwise, business growth will halt, he says.

Mitchell put managers in place for each department of the shop. They became responsible for ensuring their departments run smoothly, handling any problems and overseeing their department—all jobs Mitchell had done daily.

“I try not to get bogged down in daily operations like I was before,” Mitchell says. That’s freed up his time to focus on improving the shop: marketing strategies, business relationships, shop layout and efficiency.

Donadio suggests that delegating some of your responsibilities is not only beneficial for the owner, but for the employees as well. Most employees want to feel like they’re an important part of the business, and have a sense of ownership in the organization, he says.

“When you delegate, you get people engaged in the business,” Donadio says. “It gives them [a sense of] authority, responsibility and ownership.” Delegating can be a real motivator for employees—when it’s done correctly, he says.

A System Is Key

Donadio says most people have a reactionary approach to delegation. They see a bunch of work on their plate and start dumping tasks on other people. But that’s not how successful delegation works. To do this right, shop owners should follow a delegation process that slowly transfers authority of certain tasks to an employee over a period of time—especially for new employees or difficult tasks. This calls for patience.

Shop owners often falter at delegating because they come at it haphazardly. Most commonly, they will tell somebody to complete a task, without knowing whether that person can do the task and without offering any direction and without asking for their ideas or input, Donadio says. “You have to train, support and oversee people when you give them a new responsibility.”

A system of checks and balances is helpful when you start assigning new tasks to your employees. “Create a system that keeps some control in your hands, without actually having to do the work yourself,” Donadio says.

Donadio created a six-step process to help business owners get started delegating:

• Use “degrees of authority” to test employee abilities. Give an employee a small, specific task. If they succeed, add more responsibility. Eventually, give them control over an entire project, and you will see whether they’re capable of taking that task on for the long haul.

• Set goals and objectives together. Be clear and specific about what you want the employee to do and what the end result should look like. Make a decision together about when they should get it done.

• Create a feedback loop. When you’re breaking somebody in on a new task, allow them to check in with you periodically to make any course corrections. Make yourself available to answer their questions.

• Assign tasks with confidence. People might feel timid taking on a new responsibility. Let your employee know you have confidence in them and that you want them to succeed at the new task.

• Acknowledge that delegating is a process, not an event. Delegating is about giving somebody a skill to learn so you won’t have to worry about that task in the future. You have to let go, allow people to make mistakes and allow them to do the job differently than you might do it. Give the employee flexibility on how to handle some of the details of the task, but don’t forget to coach them along the way.

• Have a review process. Meet with the employee after the task is complete to discuss successes and problems. If things went well, give positive recognition. If things went poorly, turn it into a learning opportunity and create a plan for improvement.

“Delegation is a process, and a great learning opportunity,” Donadio says. “It’s a great tool to grow your people.”

Know Your Weaknesses

The financial side of the business can suck up a lot of valuable time each day because many shop owners don’t know how to operate that business aspect effectively. Carl Garcia, owner of Carl’s Collision in Fall River, Mass., took the shop over from his father in 2001. The shop was doing about $2.5 million in annual revenue at the time, which Garcia nearly doubled in his first year.

“The more we grew, the more headaches I had,” Garcia says.

Garcia admits he doesn’t have any qualifications to oversee the financial side of a business. But he suddenly had a boatload of work to do in that exact area. Garcia hired a full-time accountant in January 2010.

“Giving up control over parts of your business is hard,” Garcia says. “But at some point you have to relinquish control over certain aspects to people who can do it better to retain a healthy business environment.”

Garcia spent a lot of time looking for for the right person for the job.

“Hiring someone who I was comfortable with to take this on is the best money I’ve ever spent,” Garcia says. That decision has freed up 30 hours of Garcia’s time every week. Now he’s using that time to investigate the possibility of opening another location. And he even sneaks out early every now and then to spend time with his kids.

Find the Right Fit

Before delegating, Donadio recommends that you spend some time analyzing who is capable of taking certain tasks on—so you don’t end up redoing it yourself anyway:

• Think strategically when hiring new employees. When interviewing a new employee, think about some of the tasks you’ll want them to take over down the road, and hire people who match your needs.

• Identify employee personality traits. Match those personalities to the tasks you wish to delegate, and groom a specific individual for the job. That can help ensure you don’t delegate a task to somebody who isn’t comfortable with it.

• Analyze each employee’s drive and desire to do more. Doing so can help you uncover hidden talents your employees may have that could be tapped into, Mitchell says. Spend time with each employee—talk to them and watch them work—to get a feel for what skills they have to offer.

“Look for employees who take initiative and show they care about the success of the business,” Mitchell says. Your quality people will reveal themselves, he assures. “The cream always rises to the top.”

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