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5 Secrets to Effective Delegation for Small Business Leaders, with Bill Ringle

On the most recent episode of the Human Capital Innovations Podcast, Bill Ringle sat down with Jonathan Westover to discuss effective delegation specifically for small business leaders.

Bill states, “Delegation occurs when you have three elements in place. You want to do something significant, you want to involve others, and you want to build bench strength.” Furthermore, leaders must delegate of they hope to create a high performing team. “A high performing team sets aside time to develop, to learn, to give feedback, to allow that cycle for people to develop and grow further.”

A great place to start is to look at different assignments you will assign to teams in your small business. “As a project, an assignment is your training ground. An assignment is something where it’s the perfect opportunity to delegate.” You are able to get your employees involved and it becomes your job to lead and delegate to your employees to ensure the assignment gets done as it should get done.

Another thing that Bill notes is that “... many people confuse or rather mask another "D" word for delegation. And it’s commonly called dumping. 'I’m just going to dump it on them and I’m going to load it on them.'” Instead of being actively involved with your team and employees, dumping means that you simply give them the goal and let them figure it out. Doing this negatively impacts your employees, as “... they don't feel valued, et cetera. So there’s all these negative outcomes that can come from the dumping. [...] Does it free up your time? Maybe in the short term. But in terms of the long term development growth, and developing the bench strength of your team, it actually is going to end up costing you in the long run.” It can lead to a “... toxic work environment and you [as the boss are] taking advantage of you[r employees,...] if that's how you lead… those people aren’t going to stick around very long.”

Bill suggests that “... everyone is a leader. And it’s regardless of your title, and the more that you embrace that role of being a leader and thinking about ways to involve people”, the more that people will want to stay with you and will be proud to work with you. That’s the kind of environment you want to create, especially when it comes to delegation. “So it’s not just about having people do what you don’t want to do, or it’s not just about freeing up your time”, it’s about creating a positive work environment where growth happens and stuff gets done.

You can listen to the full episode at, or anywhere you listen to your podcasts, just search “HCI Podcast”.

Read the full transcript below:

Bill Ringle. Welcome To The Human Capital Innovations Podcast. Such a pleasure to be with you, John. It is a pleasure to be with you. You're joining us from the Philadelphia area. I'm south of Salt Lake City in Utah, and today we're going to be talking about delegation. You've put a lot of time and effort into this. You're an evangelist for delegation. We're going to be talking about five secrets to effective delegation generally, but also specifically for or small business leaders. And I think this will be a really great conversation for all of you who are joining us today. As we get started, I wanted to share Bill's bio with everybody. Bill Ringle works with senior managers who want to lead high performance teams and high tech companies across North America. He led the worldwide training program at Apple, and his mission is to help overwhelmed managers become admired leaders who can grow and scale companies by mastering focus, integrity, delegation, and systems. And I could go on and on with all the great accomplishments that you've achieved over the course of your career, but I'm going to pause there and give you a chance to share and highlight anything you would particularly like to share with the audience, and then we'll dive on into the conversation. Here's something that I think a lot of people don't know, John, is that delegation and management operate in a way that people think is very different than other activities, say, sports. But coaching and sports is very effective because it's seen by a lot of people. Management is not as effective because people think that it happens internally or it's more hidden. So the more that people could think about developing a great organization, a great team, a great business unit, the more you can think about as coaching a sports team, the more effectively you'll be able to think about how to help people progress, how to bring people into different positions. One of my favorite movies is Moneyball. If you've seen that, I think you know where I'm coming from. Yeah, I love that. I love moneyball. Great book, great movie. I always tell my students, I'm a university professor and I do consulting stuff as well. But in the university space, I always tell my students, like, informal homework. It's not part of the class, but you need to watch this movie from an HR organizational leadership systems and analytics perspective, man, that's where it's at. So Money Ball is a great one. Another one that I was thinking of as you were just doing that introduction is the show Ted Lasso. I don't know how many individuals listening are familiar with that show. Fantastic show in and of itself. It's hilarious. It's just a really great show. It's inspiring, all those things. So it's a great show in and of itself. But from an HR and leadership perspective, I think it's a tremendous example. And it kind of bridges what you're talking about because you have this guy who has never coached soccer in his life, doesn't even know the game, who becomes the head coach of a professional soccer team in the UK and has to figure out how to successfully lead that team. And so you have all these undercurrents going on throughout the show that are just fascinating from an OB leadership OD change management kind of a perspective. So, anyways, those are two suggestions over the holiday break. If you have a moment and you're not watching Christmas movies or other family movies, watch those too. I think you'll get a lot out of them. And let's just add on an encouragement. Always look for lessons. I mean, there are different levels that you could look at every event. I had a great teacher, a great professor in college. His name was Dave Porsche when I was at Renzelier and I was in his class. And he says, great writers approach reading in three ways. And he says, the first way you do it is as a tourist. You go through and you enjoy what's going on and you take in the sights and you're stimulated by it. The second level of great understanding is a writer will approach reading as an architect. How did somebody set this up? What was the structure? What led to that being such a satisfying ending? And then the third level is, as a thief, he says, what are the elements that I want to borrow, adapt and adopt in my own writing? So I always remember that, and I think about that as someone who designs courses and leadership trainings and stuff like that as well. You want to be able to look at things at different levels and everyone listening. I encourage you to look at movies and shows from the perspective of your professional role because they're great examples. They're great things to be able to talk about. It's not just wasting time when people said, hey, can you believe what happened on that last episode of Such and such? It's a great opportunity to reinforce good points. Yeah, absolutely. And that's the sticky stuff, right? Those are the things that we remember. And so you can go to a lecture, and I can talk about theory, and I can throw out names and dates and I can map out a theory and all those sorts of things. But it's the sticky stuff of storytelling that happens in pop culture and movies and TV shows and other forms that can resonate with us, that allow us to then apply what we're seeing and see how it fits in with our lives. So, yeah, just a second to everything you just said. This will be our last episode of the year, and this is a great way to lead into the new year and enjoy the break, enjoy the vacation, enjoy time with friends and family. And when you're casually spending some time and relaxing and watching something also, that's an opportunity for professional development at the same time. Two birds, 1 st, right? Yeah. And, John, let me share with this idea, because this is one of the key things that makes it really work in a high performing organization, is that you recognize that there are differences between two critical modes, performing and development. And there are modes because it's like a light. You can have light switch on position and up or down in the off position. You can't do them at the same time. And that's one of the areas that really interferes with people developing with an organization, is first of all, people don't plan for the development mode of operation. They only see performing. And many people say, well, just get the result, just get the job done. Make sure that that contract gets signed, make sure that that software works at the end of the week. And it's all about performance without recognizing that a high performing team sets aside time to develop, to learn, to give feedback, to allow that cycle for people to develop and grow further. And if we could go back to professional sports for a moment, you don't have professional teams playing day after day after day, even baseball. And I know the Phillies did really well this year, and I'm very proud of that. But you have to have time off to recover. It's part of the cycle. You do preparation, planning, development, performance and then recover in review. And all teams, whether on a sports field or in a workplace, are doing those to one degree or another. And it will determine your success if you have the right mix and the right balance to do those effectively. Yeah, absolutely. And I know we've digressed a little bit from the stated core topic of the conversation today, but I think this in and of itself has been a really fun, mini conversation within the larger conversation. Now, let's go back to talking specifically about delegation. Now, certainly everything we've been talking about could apply to the principle of delegation and how we learn how to do it and practice it and coach it and develop that skill. Right. But why don't we start with you defining for us what delegation means to you? I mean, it's a term. Everyone knows the term, and I think everyone kind of has a general sense of it. But I suspect you have a slightly different way of thinking about delegation and right. You would be john, many people confuse or rather mask another D word for delegation. And it's commonly called dumping, which is, oh, we have a new person coming on board the team. Let's see, what are all the things I hate to do? Let's dump that on the new guy. And delegation, you have to elevate your thinking about it. And we're talking about being mature and saying, I want to create something that's going to have longer lasting contribution to the organization than just me being there. And telling people what to do as a manager. So when you think to delegate, you think about whether you have significant work. So one of the five tips is make sure you understand what the scope of the work is that you're involving people with. And there are three different levels I'll give you. One is that there's a task to do and a task is trivial. It's simple, it's normalize. This data set, it's go ahead and find out. Do a competitive analysis of what's going on and help put it into these two slides. In a slide deck, it takes between five minutes and 5 hours and there's not necessarily a lot of new learning going on there. Then there's an assignment. And I think a lot of people overlook or under recognize the importance of an assignment. An assignment is more involved, but it's not quite involved or resource intensive. As a project, an assignment is your training ground. An assignment is something where it's the perfect opportunity to delegate. And delegation occurs let me do a sub category here. Delegation occurs when you have three elements in place. You want to do something significant, you want to involve others, and you want to build bench strength. So if you have those three things in place, you can think of assignments that you could always be making assignments to people, making sure you're clear on what the outcome is. You have support there and you're helping people develop new skills, develop relationships, while aligned with accomplishing something that's going to advance the business department unit, its goals. Yeah, and if we can pause there for just a minute, I want to double click on the dumping D word that you mentioned because I think you're right. I think that's often what it becomes. And you think of, I'm a busy man, I'm leading a big team, a division, whatever, and I need to free up time. And so I'm going to have other people do all the stuff about my job that I hate, all the stuff that I don't want to do, and I'm just going to dump it on them and I'm going to load it on them. Now, can there be some development, some learning that comes through the dumping process? Sure. I mean, you're having someone do work that perhaps they're learning something from it. But generally speaking, is that going to be rich development opportunity coming from the dumping? No, it's not. It's the menial tasks. It's the stuff you don't want to do. And when you just give it to other people, they get annoyed, bitter, frustrated. They know that they're being dumped on, they don't feel valued, et cetera. So there's all these negative outcomes that can come from the dumping. Does it free up your time? Maybe in the short term. But in terms of the long term development growth, and developing the bench strength of your team, it actually is going to end up costing you in the long run. And so we got to be really careful with this dumping that I think is just super common. And many leaders feel like it's their prerogative, like, hey, I'm the one in charge. Do what I say. I don't want to do these things. It needs to get done. You do them. Of course, there are things that need to get done that nobody wants to do. So there will be times where you're going to ask people to help with those things, but you need to be willing to roll up your sleeves and do those things too. So I think that's something that also is an assumption that I'm going to challenge, and I'm going to take the perspective of working with someone who is new to a company where normally I'm working with people who are senior managers or managers of managers, someone who's new to the company. If you adopt the perspective of always looking for whatever happens in life happens for you, not to you, you could really turn that around. So two things there one, if somebody says, here, I need all of these slides organized and put into our common drive, but organized by this category and tagged in a different way, was it something that I had a conversation with a couple of weeks ago? And if the person looks at it and says, this is an opportunity, not just that someone's dumping something on me, but I get to shine, I get to show my organizational skills, I get to make this into something. And here's how if you're listening to this and you're thinking, my gosh, my manager keeps giving me things that are trivial in order to show that you've taken this to a new level of responsibility, make a document an. SOP here's how we do this. So if this is something someone's dumping, giving you this organizational task, return to your manager, say, here's what I did, here's how long it took. And I also spent a couple of hours making this document so that if you need anyone else to do it in the future, they only need to follow these outline steps. And then the third thing I'd push back on, John, is I'd say, if you assume that nobody wants to do it, you're not looking closely enough at the talent, skills and interests of the people you're working with, because every task has someone who gets really excited about it. Think about the things you don't want to do or I don't want to do. So, for instance, when we moved into our house here outside of Philadelphia, I said to my wife, I love the property we have. It is a gorgeous property. However, I am not involved in the sport of competitive landscaping, so I will not mow our lawn. We will get good people to do it, and they will take care of it, and that'll be great. I give them a budget, and they work with it other people. My father loved mowing the lawn and he would look at it in just such microscope ways. It's not a thing that I'm interested in or take any pride in. I just want it done. I don't want it to be an issue. And if you realize that there's someone out there who, who loves to talk about these things, loves to involve themselves, loves to build skills in those areas, you'll be much better at managing and delegating because you'll find a good fit between the talent you have and the work that needs to be done. Do you agree with that? Do you think that there's some validity? No, I think you're absolutely right. And it speaks to the importance of knowing your people, knowing their talents, their abilities, understanding where they're at in their career and life stage and what interests them and where they want to go with their career and the type of growth that they're hoping to achieve in the job. All of that, I think, is important. And that only happens you only know that if you talk with your people, if you have regular check ins and you have those coaching conversations on a regular basis. So I absolutely agree with that. I do think there are probably some things that very few people like to do. And so sometimes you have to buckle up and just get stuff done sometimes and that's okay. Everyone knows that that's part of your job. But if it's like 100% of your job or 90 or 80% of your job or you're just doing stuff you hate doing and you don't want to do, then that's not going to lead to engagement and productivity and innovation. Right? So alignment is absolutely key, as you were suggesting. You can only have that alignment if you know your people really well. And then the first point that you were making around pushback it's slipping my mind if you can remind me because I agreed with that one too. I wanted to expound on it a little bit. Maybe we both forgot. I'm reminded of something that a colleague of mine said when I was at Apple, and Fred told me one time, you know, these mentoring moments that occur? Fred said to me, he says, there will always be up to 20% of your job. That isn't going to excite you, isn't going to delight you, isn't going to be your thing. But if you could figure out how to make at least half of your job doing the thing you love, it really doesn't matter. And we were talking about like, filling out travel and expense reports at that point it's like, oh man, I forgot to get it on Friday. So just making a point with yourself to get those things done so then it doesn't become an issue with your manager. It just becomes something. It's nonissue, and you get to focus more on the things you love to do and that you could really make unique contributions in your organization with than tripping over things that you just don't like that you were talking about that we all have. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And the other thing you mentioned that I think is really important is regardless of the dumping that may or may not happen, I as the dumpy. If I'm receiving the dumping, I do have a choice on how I approach it. I can either get bitter because I'm being dumped on it repeatedly or I can be proactive and try to shape that into a development opportunity. Now, in an ideal world, you're going to have a boss who even if you broke it down into those three types of areas I forget what you called the first one, but you kind of have the menial tasks, assignments and then projects. And sometimes you do need to delegate and assign. You have to give those tasks to people to do. But if that's the case, make sure that you're reframing it as an assignment or a project for your person. So if you're saying to your example, do this slide deck, XYZ, whatever, rather than just saying, hey, can you go through and do these basic, really simple little things, hey, can you really take a good deep look at this? Can you see how we can enhance this and elevate it into an assignment or a project? And a good leader will do that, even for those more menial types of tasks that you might want to have someone do. And therefore it becomes a development opportunity. Now that said, a lot of times leaders don't do that. And so if I'm the one receiving the dumpage from someone else, hopefully I will be proactive in how I receive that and whether they frame it that way or not, hopefully I'll take the initiative to make it into an assignment or a project and really wow them over, deliver on what they asked you to do. And you're developing your skills, you're showing your boss what you're made of. You're positioning yourself for future assignments and projects and other opportunities. I completely agree with that. And here, let's just think this through one more level. There was a fellow, Paul, who was working in a cloud based area of a larger company and he had someone who overdelivered like this. And what did Paul do is he started bragging about it. He started showing other managers as well as his boss. That raised the guy who reported to Paul. It raised his visibility in the organization. And in a matter of three months, this guy was continually doing this. It raised his visibility, it raised his stock. And another manager took him away from Paul. Paul came to me when he had lost him and said, well, something's going on here. When you do things like this, it only becomes win win. And the more that you could think about ways to always make whatever happens, win win, you're going to be in a much better position that way, and you won't feel like a victim. It won't feel like you're not getting FaceTime. You say, I just am going to do the best with whatever I'm given. Yeah. And the caveat I'll make to that. And you have to be careful. So a leader could be tempted to be listening to this conversation and say, well, it's up to them. Even if I dump on them, if I have a good person, they're going to make lemon, the lemons into lemonade and whatever, and so I'm going to keep dumping on them. I'm going to keep essentially abusing and exploiting them. And there are times where people get exploited, where they get taken advantage of, and I don't want to advocate for that and I don't want people to put up with it either. So if you're in a situation where it's a toxic work environment and your boss is taking advantage of you, I'm thinking of lots of movie examples of this, even based on our previous conversation. If you do that, if that's how you lead, those people aren't going to stick around very long. And I wouldn't want them to stick around. I would want them to be looking for other opportunities. The grass isn't always greener, of course. And you always need to be willing to put in the work for the job that you want to have, not the job that you do have. But it can get to the point where it's so out of balance and you're being taken advantage of, that it might be time to either have a conversation with your boss to level set or to be looking for something else. Absolutely. And we're talking about people who are in healthy relationships now, not in toxic relationships. So if you find that there are elements of toxic communications or lack of respect or lack of integrity with what is going on with your work relationship, by all means, take a step back and evaluate because there's so many choices and ways for you to contribute. Yeah, absolutely. Let me just share with you three points that I want to make sure that listeners get from this conversation. And one is that everyone is a leader. And it's regardless of your title, and the more that you embrace that role of being a leader and thinking about ways to involve people, I think of a conversation that you had with Sheila Mormon. Was that her name? Mormon episodes ago. She says, you can't do very much by yourself. And that is so true. I was standing up and all excited when I heard her say those words. You can't do very much by yourself. So think about ways to involve people and involve people well, structures help people do things at a higher quality, more consistently. So if you want to do that, think about using structures, even though it means that you're not going to trust people to shoot from the hip. More successful organizations and groups are always doing that. And the third point I'd make to make sure people understand how to effectively work together in a high performing way rather than in a low performing way, is that you're in a company, and when you're in a company, you're with company. So reach out to get the support, feedback, guidance, mentoring that you need in order to do a work all the time. So those are the kinds of things I want people to think about because they come here looking to learn. And John, you helped bring out these points so well, so I just wanted to make sure we got those in during this episode. Yeah, I really appreciate that. And I appreciate all of these elements of effective delegation that you've been spelling out for us and the examples you've been providing. And I like the distinction between the dumping D word versus the delegation D word and framing delegation around an opportunity to develop bench strength. It is a developmental tool that should be coupled with coaching and mentoring and ongoing performance conversations with your team. And as you give people opportunities to develop stretch, stretch goals, stretch projects, things that will extend them out of their comfort zone, that's opportunity for growth and that's opportunity for them to be in positions to step into the next role right. And help people prepare now for the next position, the next level up, or the various types of skills that they may not need so much in their day to day right now, but they might need in a year or two from now. So let's proactively develop that. Think of and elevate the conversation around delegation. So it's not just about having people do what you don't want to do, or it's not just about freeing up your time. There's value in freeing up a leader's time so they can do the high level strategic stuff and they can do the coaching and the mentoring and that kind of stuff. And if you're getting bogged down into all this minutiae of these tasks day in and day out, you need to be thinking about ways to calibrate and to free up your time. Certainly. But if we think about delegation in terms of development, another D word, then I think that's where we're really going to get the power from it. Yeah, so true. Well, Bill, it has been a real pleasure. I know at the time I need to let you go here in just a minute. But before we wrap things up, I wanted to give you a chance to share with the audience how they can connect with you, find out more about your work, and then give us a final word on the topic for today. Great. John, I have a special gift for people who are listening today where I go through in a little mini class, the delegation framework, and it can be really helpful to people and it's for your listeners. So go to HCI for human capital innovations. Second of all, connect with me on LinkedIn. I'm easy to find. Bill ringle. And third, I have a podcast. Also my quest for the best. We have over 400 episodes with top thought leaders and I'd love for listeners of this show. If you like what we were talking about today, to go ahead and sample something over at My Quest for the Best. Love to have you there as well. So, Jonathan, it's been such a pleasure talking with you about delegation. And I want you to realize and want everyone listening to understand that delegation is the key component to effective company growth. You can't have things operating effectively without effective delegation, because it's only when delegation works that you get that one plus one equals three effect rather than something else. Yeah, absolutely. Bill, it has been a real pleasure. I encourage my audience to reach out, get connected, check out his podcast, check out the micro course, check out all the great things that Bill is doing and his team. And as always, I hope everyone can stay healthy and safe, that you can find meaning and purpose at work each and every day. And I hope you all have great week.

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