Take some things off your plate

Learn the right way to delegate tasks to your employees.

May 29, 2017
Marty Grunder
Owner's Almanac

Recently a client of mine, Chase, who runs a successful landscaping company in Idaho, asked me how you, as the owner “take stuff off your plate” as the company grows. He said, “As you grow your business and get to the point of not being able to handle every single phone call that comes through to your cell, how do you start to delegate or wean clients off you and train them to rely on your team? I’m talking texts and calls/voice mails about broken heads, service calls, simple things and I can’t deal with all this effectively.” Any of you been here? I have, so let’s talk about how you can handle it.

First of all, if there’s a problem to have, Chase, this is a good one. Business is so good you no longer have time to do a lot of the little things you used to do. Secondly, this is the entrepreneur’s dilemma – your ability to delegate effectively – key word effectively, is what will determine your success. The trouble is far too many landscapers don’t learn how to delegate properly and it costs them business and creates stress and frustration in the process. You have a real chance to grow your business by learning how to handle this problem correctly. There are 3 things you need to do. 1. Empower your team to handle things for you. 2. Learn the right way to delegate. And 3. Stay out of the way.

1. Empower your team. The first step to taking work off your plate as a CEO is to have a capable team to delegate to. So, this means you hire slow, fire fast or as my colleague Matt Caruso says, “Hire right, fire less.” Always be looking for quality people. Oftentimes, you find them before you need them and I suggest you consider hiring them. Quality people are the ones you delegate to; you have to have people with capacity or ability to delegate to. Talk to any entrepreneur who has grown their company and they will tell you quality people were the key. And then you tell these good teammates what you want them to do via job descriptions and clear instructions and let them do their job. Give your team the responsibility and the authority to take over things.

Chase, I’ve been there when I could not handle everything my clients needed so here’s what I did. I called them, sometimes depending on the situation I went and saw them personally and said, “Mrs. Jones, I love working with you and because of great clients like you, we’ve grown Grunder Landscaping Co. and I am not longer able to handle your account like I have in the past. So, I would like to bring Brent over and he is going to take care of you. He is an incredibly talented landscaper and I want to introduce him to you.” I can’t even remember anyone being unhappy with this. I take Brent over and introduce him to Mrs. Jones and make it clear that Brent is able to help her and then I also tell her if she ever needs me to call me on my cell phone. It’s then up to Brent, as I explain to him, to not give her any reason to say anything other than, “You know what; I like Brent better.” I then tell Brent to send her a handwritten thank you note and keep her on his call list. In a matter of time, trust is earned and things are actually better, provided Brent does a good job. I stand behind Brent and show him by my actions that I believe in him. Today, Brent is one of my valuable team members that I can send anywhere any time; he knows I trust him and feel he is empowered to be a leader.

2. Learn the right way to delegate. You don’t just dump all your problems on your team; you delegate the responsibility and the authority to them. The key word here is authority. We just talked about empowerment. Here’s the right way to delegate: “Brent, I need you to call Mrs. Jones and go see her, walk around in her garden with her and get her a quote to update it. I need you to do it by 5 this Friday and I want to see a copy of your quote, as you always do, in my bin by Monday morning. Let me know through the process what is going on, so I can call her to follow up. I want her to know you are in charge. However, I also want her to know I care. She’s been a client of mine for 20 years, okay?” I then tell Brent, “I find I don’t always communicate very well. Would tell me what you heard me say so I am certain that what needs to be done is understood.”

Brent then goes on to tell me what he’s going to do. I have used this process hundreds of times. The important parts are the clarity of the direction, a deadline and asking the person to whom you delegated this task to tell you what they are going to do. There’s no point in talking a whole lot about the wrong way to delegate. Too many times I hear landscapers frustrated with what their people did and after I investigate, I find they told their teams to “call Mrs. Jones and see what she wants.” That’s not delegating, that’s dumping, and that won’t work! 

3. Stay out of the way. The surest way to get more work on your desk, not less, is to jump in and take over problems and tasks you have asked others to do. If you have said to your team a job is theirs to do and if you have delegated the task, you have to say out of the way, even if you don’t like how things seemingly are being done. Delegating is a frightening experience for the owners of small landscaping companies. Your business is your baby and there’s no way anyone else is ever going to care as much about your company as you do. But the myth that you are the “only one who cares” or that “you have to do everything” is false. Brent, who I mentioned here, started with me almost 10 years ago and the first calls I sent him on as a salesperson weren’t handled the way I would handle them. I watched, pointed out the good, suggested some things he could work on and we kept working on things. Today, he’s a confident, empowered sales professional to whom I delegate large projects all the time. We have a tremendous rapport and I am very proud of him. He doesn’t even ask me for help, unless it’s bad, because he knows I believe in him and I trust him and I don’t meddle. I gladly stay out of the way. I have other things that make Grunder Landscaping Co. more effective.