Solving the Problem of “Wearing Too Many Hats”: Delegation and the Leveraged Model
The growth of any enterprise is dependent upon two factors: revenue and capacity. Driving enough revenue to creative meaningful and sustained growth over time may be the most important element of growth – but creating the ever increasing capacity to deliver on that growing revenue is certainly an equally important issue.
Growth is almost always held up by lack of revenue, but when the revenue is present, growth is just as easily held up by a lack of capacity. As more revenue creates more complexity, the key team members simply “wear more hats.” Before long, people are maxed out and the resulting chaos forces a slowdown in revenue generation because “we simply can’t keep up.” Thus comes the unfortunate moment when the team is actually disappointed when that new job comes in. When the company is no longer excited about signing new clients, growth is stifled and the company stagnates.
The solution is creating more capacity to deliver on growing revenue. This is best done by a leveraged model of staffing.
What is Leverage?
Leverage is the term usually applied by professional service firms to describe their focus on pushing the work down to the lowest paid employee. Most other industries simply speak of delegation. The two are relatively interchangeable, but there is an important nuance that separates the two.
Delegation is defined as “entrusting a task to another person.” When we think of delegation, we think of getting something off our plate, and on to someone else’s plate. It’s a hand off. Delegation assumes that someone else is handling it, and that they are responsible for it getting done. You only check back in to make sure that it is complete.
Leverage can be defined as “exerting a force or influence on something (or someone)” to get something done. With leverage, the person who originally has responsibility for the task needs to work with, train and support the person they are entrusting the task to. Rather than drop the task on their plate and leave, leverage requires the senior person to manage to a successful outcome.
How to properly leverage is explained below, but there are several reasons for preferring leverage over delegation:
- Delegation assumes that the person you’re entrusting the task to is fully trained and capable of taking the task. For small enterprises, it is rarely the case that you can afford to hire someone off the street who is fully trained and ready to go for what you need. This is partly because that level of expertise is expensive, but is also because small enterprises are often not large enough to have achieved true division of labor to the point where they can hire a specialist. The key players in a small enterprise are generalists, and they need generalists to leverage their work onto.
- Leverage allows for quality control. Because leverage requires the senior person to remain part of the process throughout, the senior person is able to manage quality control. It is the very desire for quality control that usually keeps people from delegating in the first place. So the, ironically, quality control keeps the enterprise from growing. When leverage is done right, it allows for growing your capacity while maintaining your standards.
- Leverage leads to quality improvement. When leverage is practiced consistently, and senior people are constantly working with junior people, both are getting stronger in what they do. Not to mention that the junior person will almost always bring slight improvements to the process, creating virtuous cycle of improvement. Finally, the leverage model builds the employees up with continuous training and interaction with senior people. Leverage hearkens back to the days of the apprentice model when the senior person shared their knowledge with the junior.
Who Has Time for That?
The biggest objection to the leverage model is time, usually expressed in the statement, “It is faster to do it myself than to explain to someone else how to do it.” This sounds completely Logical, but only if you are being short sighted and thinking simply of this one task. If you take the long view and think strategically, the extra time invested will return to you many fold. Still, most people don’t believe that it makes sense to take the time to explain it to someone else.
This is because success is counter-intuitive. When you learn the technical aspects of some skill, there are always some things that don’t seem natural – e.g., how to hold the racquet, the proper posture, memorizing the order of operations. You’re usually told, “This may not make sense now, but as you progress it will become essential to doing it right.” Taking the time to train something you can do faster yourself is one of these things. It may seem crazy now, but over time, you will see the wisdom in it.
One concept that may help understand the importance of leverage is the difference between sunk time and invested time. Putting a slight twist on the concept of sunk costs, sunk time is anything you do once that has no value beyond the basic achievement of that act itself. For example, drive time tends to be sunk time. It gets you to your destination and that’s it, which is why so many people try to turn it into invested time – by making phone calls, or listening to books on tape, or carpooling with an associate to discuss key business decisions. Now that time has not only been used to get from A to B, but also has created added value while getting from A to B.
Leverage is the ultimate in invested time. While it may always seem easier to do something yourself, instead of teaching someone else how to do it, when you do those tasks yourself, it’s sunk time as far as the capacity of your enterprise is concerned. You have not increased the capacity at all by doing it yourself, even though you did it quickly.
Leveraging someone to accomplish something for you may increase the time it takes to accomplish that single task, but if it has planted that skill into another person you have just invested that time to increase the capacity of your organization. The next time you have to hand something off, it will take less of your time, and less of your associate’s time, allowing you to hand off more, and freeing up more of your time.
How to Leverage
The leverage process itself can be summarized in three steps.
- Download and Orientation.
- Reviews and Refinements
- Closeout and Delivery
Download and Orientation
The download process is what takes the most time. If you are serious about having a leverage model in your company, you have to appreciate the need for constantly thinking ahead. The reason that so many people fail to delegate or leverage their employees is that they run out of time. Now, it’s not just a matter of being easier to do it yourself, the lack of time gives you no other option. In a leveraged model company, all the senior people must be looking down the road and thinking in terms of the coming week, month and year and what leverage needs and opportunities are on the horizon. In a leveraged model, people don’t wake up thinking, “What am I going to do today?”, but rather “What are my associates going to do today?”
When doing the orientation to a new task, the senior person must explain the task clearly. There are three things that should be shared in any training moment, they are:
- The philosophy – why are we doing this? When your associate understands why they are doing this, it increases buy-in, partnership and motivation.
- The best practices – how is this usually done? There is probably plenty of information on the internet about how to do this and a couple of YouTube videos. Help the associate understand what parts of this job are standard so they can research it themselves.
- The application – what do I need to know about this situation? Every task has its special quirks -- another reason so many people resist leverage. This is the hardest part to get across to your associate, but also the most important. Specific requirements from the client, deadlines, and unusual circumstances are all an important part of the download, though sometimes some of these can be saved for later if doing so will not cause more trouble on the back end.
Reviews and Refinements
The leverage process usually involves ongoing processes that will require a few iterations to get it right. Nothing will turn you off to leveraging faster than expecting the first draft to come back perfect and ready to go. Remember, you didn’t do it yourself. It’s not going to be exactly what you want. At this point you have to decide if it makes more sense to do the refinements yourself, or to send it back with some pointers. Usually the proximity of the deadline will dictate which course to take.
The review and refinement, the back and forth between a senior and associate to perfect a project, is really where all the value is in the leverage model. The back and forth will naturally lead to all sorts of improvements to this particular product, but also will create long term process improvements and quality upgrades that can be used next time. So while it is tempting to grab the first draft, polish it up yourself and get it out the door, the review and refinement offers the greatest opportunity for increasing quality.
Closeout and Delivery
When two or more people have shared in a project, someone needs to take responsibility for the final product. In the leverage model, this is always the senior person. The senior person must not only put in the necessary time to proof the finished product, but they must also take the fall for any mistakes. There are several pitfalls here that can ruin the leverage model culture:
- Rushing out the associate’s product with errors and mistakes, then blaming the associate. This creates a gun-shy associate who will go slower, ask more questions and lose confidence.
- Not including the associate or giving them credit during the delivery. What better moment to build morale, motivation and momentum than to deliver the product and give the associate the credit? Failing to do this makes the associate feel like simple grunt.
- Never closing out the project. When the senior person waits for the associate to finish without clear deadlines, or if they have the final draft but fail to look at it, these scenarios also hurt associate morale and inspiration. Put a bow on the project and then do a quick review with the associate on how the process went and how to improve it for next time.
There is much more to successful leverage than just handing off work. Behind the leverage process is a leverage culture. The leverage culture has these qualities:
- A commitment to well documented systems and repeatable processes
- A passion for continuous and ongoing training in those systems
- A desire to build up the next generation
Putting the time into creating systems and training people in those systems is yet another way that the leverage model takes time. But just as growth of a business often requires the investment of more money, it also requires the investment of time.
What to Leverage
Once you commit to practicing leverage, it is can be hard to decide what to leverage. It is tempting to say that nothing is quite right for leverage. Actually, the opposite is true, that most things are able to be leveraged. Some things are better than others. Some of the best types of leverage tasks are listed below.
- Things that are repeatable
- Tasks that have daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly rhythms
- Things that are knowledge based
- Tasks that require more knowledge and research than experienced judgment
- Things that are require several drafts
- Tasks with layered complexity are ideal as they can be passed back and forth
- Things that are low level of importance
- Tasks that can be delegated without much training or risk.
As a small enterprise tries to move toward growth and scale, it will require investment of both time and money. While money can be spent to grow revenue through strategic investment in marketing, increased capacity requires the time necessary to create and execute a leverage culture.
Questions for Consideration
- Do you ever find that your senior people are doing lower level work?
- Have you ever had turn down work because your people are too busy?
- Do you have key senior managers who are wearing many different hats?
- Do you practice leverage? delegation? both? neither?
Articles for Further Reading
- “Leverage versus Delegation.” https://alishashibli.wordpress.com/2017/02/09/delegation-vs-leverage
- “What’s Your Leverage Model?” http://www.consultantsmind.com/2014/03/16/consultant-whats-your-leverage-model
- “Knowing Your Operational Capacity.” http://yoursmallbusinessgrowth.com/knowing-your-operational-capacity