The Five Worst Delegation Mistakes
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Delegating tasks is daunting. Here are the five most common mistakes advisors make when they hire new assistants and how to avoid them.
We’ve all seen this popular trope in movies: The big boss hires a bumbling assistant who spends the first half of the film wreaking havoc in the office.
We laugh at the misunderstandings and maybe even cringe at the assistant’s repeated blunders. By the movie's end, we cheer on the assistant who found their stride and is 10 steps ahead of their employer’s every need.
So many of us go into the hiring process with unrealistic expectations, believing our new-found team members will undergo a magical transformation and be effortlessly productive.
The reality is that your hire will resemble the fumbling assistant at the beginning of the feel-good movie, not the end. And this has more to do with your leadership than the person you hired.
To offer the most support to your team as members grow into their new roles, here are a few tips to help.
- A new hire isn’t a magic bullet
When I earned my CFP®, I thought prospects would come banging on my office door, begging to become clients.
That didn’t happen.
I started a new marketing program, hoping that Facebook ads would grow my client list overnight – it didn’t.
I also believed my first assistant would be 10 steps ahead of me, making all my problems disappear. The reality was my new hire couldn’t read my mind, and your assistant wouldn’t be able to either.
Just like everything else in your practice, delegations take tremendous work and energy – no spontaneous problem-solving or magic mindreading is involved. And there will be many mistakes along the way before you both get this delegation thing figured out.
- Everything is your fault
Taking ownership of your delegation decisions can be tough to swallow. But you’ll get the most out of your relationships with team members if you accept responsibility when things go awry.
If you find that your team isn’t delivering, take a good, hard look at what you may have done to cause any hangups.
One of the major mistakes I made when I started delegating was that I expected my team members to do the task faster and more precisely than I could.
I have years of experience doing the task and a clear image of the end product. If I poorly communicate what’s needed in the delegation and fail to set up my team members for success, I won’t get the desired results – no matter how skilled my new hire is.
- It’s cruel to be nice
For a delegation to go well, you must be exceptionally clear in your communication. Sometimes, we try to be nice when, in reality, niceness is nothing but cruel.
Let me explain.
It's not nice to create ambiguous statements about what you want so that your team members have to decipher what you’re requesting.
Hey, if you have some time, I know you’re busy, but maybe if you could please take a look at this, that would be fantastic.
This statement sounds nice – you’re stating that you know they’re busy, and the tone feels like you don’t want to impose. But you want the task completed in your mind, but that’s not what you said.
If you’re not upfront about your expectations, you’re setting your team members up to fail, which is cruel.
When you make statements like this, you can’t be mad when your team members take it literally and don’t look at the task because they were busy and didn’t have time.
Instead, be upfront about what you want and your expectations:
Hey, I expect you to have these completed when I get back.
There’s no hidden agenda for your team to decipher, no mistaken priorities, and much higher odds of success.
- Parkinson’s law applies to everyone
Parkinson's Law is the adage that work will expand to fill the time allotted for its completion. Parkinson’s law is at play for everyone in your practice – it doesn’t discriminate. Help your team stay on track by setting up parameters for tasks and a time budget for projects.
Recently, I asked my virtual assistant, Zach, to find an appointment to renew my family’s passports. I told him this was a “top-priority task” but didn’t give him any other parameters. My poor assistant spent over five hours desperately trying to find an appointment.
I should have said:
This is a high priority, but I know it's a pain. If you spend two hours without making progress, please get back to me.
When delegating tasks, build in some project checkpoints to help budget time:
Let’s spend two hours on this, and then let me know where you are.
Go ahead and spend a day working on this thing, and then give me a progress update.
Time limits can help your delegation from going off the rails and breaking the budget.
- There are only two types of problems
When a delegation goes south, you need to step back and ask if you’re experiencing a process problem or a people problem.
When facing a people problem, sometimes, you need to help your team members update their resume and find a new employer.
It's not necessarily because the team member was a bad person, but because we’re putting them in a role where they can’t succeed – which isn’t fair. You’re allowing them to find a new position that will fit better.
When you have a process problem, you’ll have to take a deeper look at yourself and your role in the delegation’s breakdown. Maybe you’re not respecting your team member’s deadlines or their time. Perhaps you’re not reviewing timelines or pinging them with too many messages.
Whatever happens in the process, take ownership and make corrections to the process to prevent issues in the future.
It helps to create a space where your team members feel comfortable talking to you about the delegation hangups and where they can push back a little when necessary to help you stay accountable.
Create a list of all the tasks you’re doing in your practice. Circle those tasks on your list that someone else could do for you.
It doesn’t matter if you could do these tasks faster or if it would take a potential team member more work. What matters is that someone else can do them.
Now that you’ve got an idea of items you could delegate, what would it take to get these things off your plate?
Matthew Jarvis, CFP®, ChFC, is the co-founder of The Perfect RIA, one of the industry's most recognized advisor training platforms. Just 10 years prior, Jarvis was buried in debt, with a badly struggling practice and a morning routine of trying to figure out how to quit the industry without looking like a failure. Through several turns of fate, Jarvis clawed from near failure to the top of the industry. Today, alongside running his incredibly profitable and successful practice, Jarvis guides other advisors on duplicating his success in their practice.
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