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Are You a Control Freak?

“Most entrepreneurs feel like everything has to be done just right — and no one can do it like you can,” says Paul Feagan, founding partner of  Original Juan Specialty Foods Inc., Kansas City, Kan. “It’s hard to give it up.”

Yet CEOs who learn to effectively delegate reap big benefits:

  • More time to concentrate on the big picture.
  • Increased production and sales because you’re, in effect, cloning yourself.
  • Improved internal communications because you’re forcing employees to communicate with each other and with management to get the job done.
  • Increased employee loyalty and confidence.

But delegating is difficult to do. Accustomed to handling everything themselves, second-stage business owners may cleave to projects, reluctantly handing them over with their nails dug in — only to fasten a short leash. Some toss the baby with the bathwater, only to be disappointed that expectations haven’t been met, while others don’t know what duties to delegate.

“It’s one thing to give up duties that you don’t want to do. I had no problem handing over things to our first employee, our office manager,” concedes David Cacioppo, one of four founders of CHRW Advertising in Kansas City, Mo. “But once we hired an art director and other creatives with backgrounds like mine, I had trouble. You have to give up control — but not all of it.”

Signs to watch out for:

  • Do you continue to perform petty tasks because it lends a sense of accomplishment?
  • Do you think that if you handed the reins to some one else, you’ll feel useless?
  • Do you hire people who you know won’t grab the reins anyway?

If the answer is “yes,” then you’re more of a control freak than an effective delegator.

Delegate with job descriptions

Delegating is easier if you know what employees need to do — and what they don’t.

At Original Juan, an operational plan now breaks down all employees’ functions. “That way, by the time I show up here, the place is running. It’s pretty structured, and people know what they are supposed to do,” Feagan says. “When we started out, roles were sketchy.”

This new structure has laid a foundation for Original Juan’s growth. Now Feagan, who’s in charge of sales, attends 10 trade shows a year compared to only three in 2000. Annual revenues totaled $2.5 million in 2001; this year it should hit $3.5 million.

“You have to force yourself to have a plan that outlines what you need done and how to do it,” says Feagan.

Hire right

Hiring people you trust makes delegating easier.

Joey Asher recognized he needed to hire a sales manager — although he originally thought he would perform that role.

“Frankly, I figured out I wasn’t the greatest sales manager. We struggled along for a year and a half,” says Asher, president of Speechworks, an Atlanta-based sales and training consulting firm.

Sales didn’t decrease, nor did they grow. Asher realized he had two choices: He could continue to figure out sales management on his own and have flat sales, or hire that expertise and start growing.

The first quarter after hiring the sales manager produced the most revenue in Speechwork’s history.

Asher holds regular meetings with his sales manager, but doesn’t meddle: “I attend and review,” he says, “but rely on my staff to handle what’s within their expertise in their own way.”

Although trust is important, so is a system of checks and balances, says Rick Krska, president of LaserCycle, a Lenexa, Kan.-based company with 140 employees and $20 million in 2001 revenues. “I have a CFO who’s responsible for all the financials, but I know to never completely hand it over; I want a copy of those receivables so I can scan them.”

The danger in wholeheartedly giving away tasks you don’t enjoy is that employees may not be as careful as you’d like. “People do what you inspect, not expect,” according to Krska. “Whatever the boss is looking at, that’s what they know is important.”

Warning: Don’t dampen employees’ enthusiasm by wresting control with a heavy hand. “Monitor little pieces, and make those pieces bigger as you move along,” Krska says. “But remember that people are motivated by having control. That’s how they make a difference.

“If I have a high-level person who’s, say, operating at 95%, and they make a decision that I don’t totally agree with, that’s OK,” he adds, “because the damage caused by hanging over their shoulder is greater than the difference of opinion on that one decision. Don’t take their motivation away.”

Keeping in touch

One key to effective delegating is communication. CHRW’s staff of nine relies on brief meetings to keep abreast of who’s doing what. Managing these meetings prompted Cacioppo and his partners to specialize in different areas: Cacioppo is now in charge of financials, while the other three partners manage creative integrity, sales and account management.

In addition, CHRW plans to adopt trafficking software to keep better tabs on jobs. “Relinquishing projects is easier when you have a system that will catch what may be slipping through the cracks,” Cacioppo says. “It typically builds your confidence, allowing you to hand over more.”

Indeed, formal communication systems are important regardless of a company’s size. “Even though we only have six employees, we have computer files with schedules and goals,” says Danielle Hovenier, president and CEO of The Maverick Group, a marketing firm in Nashville, Tenn. “We also have meetings to remind everyone of who needs what when. You still need people talking to one another. Ideas don’t reside in computer files.”

Writer: Rosemarie Buchanan.