JOHANNESBURG - The ability and willingness to delegate is as crucial to business owners as planning, selling and prioritisation skills. Without it, the business will always remain in the realm of the freelancer - small, stagnant and wholly dependent on one person.


The biggest stumbling block to better delegating is fear - fear that employees will botch the job, damage something, waste raw material, offend a client or expose your business's weaknesses to the outside world.

The antidote is to build trust, with the emphasis on “build”. Building trust is a process that requires time, careful thought and good people management.

Start simply

If you are in any way uncertain, start with small, routine tasks delegated to a general assistant. Administrative systems such as compliance paperwork and bookkeeping are excellent for practising your delegation skills while you attend to the core business of your enterprise.

Instructions, goals and expected outcomes

Your attempts at delegating can be effective only if your employees understand what you want. In other situations, you might want your employees to improvise solutions and take initiative to adapt the way they do things as circumstances change.


When people are shy or too intimidated to ask questions, misunderstanding follows. Create an atmosphere that encourages questions and discussions, even if the emphasis remains on getting on with the job. Don’t dismiss questions as "stupid" or "a waste of time", as this might impact on how your staff carry out their delegated task.


Feedback to employees should be constant, clear and sincere. Critiquing someone's work is a sensitive undertaking, but it can be done in a way which motivates and encourages improvement. Praise for work well done is a great motivator, but be careful of diluting its potency through overuse or insincerity.


Find a balance between giving your employees space to get on with their tasks and keeping an eye on what they are doing. If you find that you are constantly having to correct and supervise the work of an employee through an ever-more intricate set of instructions and checklists, it is probably time to confront the fact that you have delegated the work to the wrong person.


Delegating is easier when you work with enthusiastic people who are self-motivated and eager to learn. Defensive types are difficult to manage. It is therefore important to try to employ employees with the right attitude, especially in owner-managed businesses where on-the-job training is the order of the day.

Rules of employment

Know the labour laws. Terminating someone's employment who is not performing or has a negative attitude is only difficult if you don't know the labour laws. It is entirely possible to terminate someone's employment within the ambit of the law. However, you have to invest time in providing feedback and implementing remedial solutions before just firing employees.

Advice and mentorship

Good delegating requires a broad range of skills and knowledge from team building to planning to knowing the labour laws. Learning all of this through trial-and-error may well turn out to be more expensive than seeking out advice, mentorship, books on the subject or training.

Know yourself

Delegation can often go wrong because of your own foibles. You may be emotionally attached to being the best craftsman or salesman in your business and resist the idea of handing over to your employees. Perfectionist tendencies may cause you to redo the work you've delegated. Self-reflection, perhaps with the help of a coach or a mentor, can only help to make you a better delegator.

Ben Bierman is a managing director at Business Partners Limited.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.