What Should Every Startup CEO Know about Delegation?

Keith Krach
November 16, 2016

Any experienced startup CEO knows that founding a company comes with no small set of challenges. Between assembling the right team, developing a comprehensive plan for scaled growth, and adapting to changing circumstances on the path to success, the process of establishing a successful startup requires CEOs to take on more tasks than any one person would typically assume in a business setting.

While this multitasking approach may be functional in the earliest phases of company development, there comes a point when every CEO must begin to rely on other employees within the startup to complete tasks and manage portions of the business that were previously under the CEO’s control. This process of delegation tends to seem easier in theory than it is in practice, however, as many startup leaders find it difficult to give up control after a prolonged period of managing so many aspects of the business independently.

Here are four tips for startup leaders who want to improve their companies by simplifying the act of delegating tasks:

1. Learn to recognize the right time to let go.

The first step toward effective delegation is learning to recognize when it is time to take a step back. Assuming an excessive amount of responsibilities in the earliest stages of a startup can be beneficial or even necessary for small teams with limited funding, but there is a point in the growth of the company where it can do more harm than good.

This point comes at different junctures for different leaders, but one rule of thumb is to begin delegating tasks when you are so occupied by working within the company that you no longer have any time to put toward planning for its future. In addition, if you are only addressing complications as they arise and become urgent, and you have no time to steer your business away from these issues through proper planning, then it is time to delegate some of your work to a trustworthy employee.

2. Give thorough instructions.

Effective delegation requires that you find the right balance between micromanagement and being too hands-off in your approach to leadership. Finding this balance when managing your employees is much easier if you prepare a list of comprehensive instructions when you first assign a responsibility to an employee. The delegated task may seem self-explanatory to a CEO who has handled it by him or herself since the start of the company, but outlining instructions will help make the transition of responsibilities less stressful for both parties.

In addition, if you know ahead of time that you must complete certain aspects of a task in a specific manner or on a certain timeline in order to meet your expectations, then you should emphasize the information to the employee who will be assuming the responsibility. This clarity will not only bring you peace of mind, but will also help your employees by allowing them to understand what is expected of them right from the beginning.

3. Choose the right people—and then trust them.

As the leader of a startup, you have likely put time and effort into assembling a team of talented professionals with a diverse range of skillsets. When delegating tasks, it is important to consider and evaluate your pool of talent to choose the right person among your employees for the job. Don’t make the mistake of simply choosing the person on your startup team who is the most convenient option or has the most time available. Don’t forget that you can redistribute responsibilities among your team members, so be sure to choose the individual whose abilities are most relevant to the task you have chosen to delegate.

Once you make the decision and have clearly outlined your expectations, it is crucial that you put trust in the employee whom you have chosen to assume the task. The point of delegation is to free up your time to focus on operational areas most in need of your expertise, but a lack of trust in the employee you have selected for the task will render the decision useless. Give the chosen employee the freedom to approach projects in a way that he or she sees fit, and resist the urge to manage their efforts yourself.

4. Don’t ignore the power of communication.

Even with thorough instructions, capable employees, and in-depth training, you still may experience difficulty when you transfer control over a project to another person within your team. However, you can make this practice easier by adopting strong systems of communication, which will allow you to stay informed without taking up too much valuable work time.

The format, content, and rate of frequency with which business leaders communicate about these subjects will vary. But, regardless of your communication strategy, it is important to not lose sight of the ultimate goal: giving you more time to lead the company. With this in mind, you should develop a meeting or e-mail schedule that gives you peace of mind, but still allows you plenty of space to focus on your core responsibilities as head of the company. When you do communicate with the employees who have taken over your former responsibilities, be sure to give thoughtful feedback to keep their work in line with your expectations moving forward.

Keith Krach

Keith Krach is Chairman of DocuSign, The Global Standard for Digital Transaction Management.