Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart
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What Richard Branson forgot to say about effective delegation

Richard Branson is driven, passionate, smart, and people want to follow him. He knows how to use his gifts to create successful companies and make his weaknesses irrelevant. He will tell you part of his business success is finding great people with the right strengths, and then letting them do their jobs, accepting their good faith mistakes as the cost of growth and still cheering them on as they advance themselves and the business. They are doing things he could never do himself but that they would likely never do without his leadership. It’s a true win-win pattern that has worked more than it has failed.  

“Find great people with the right strengths and empower them to do what needs doing” would be the summary of all this.  

I totally agree, but I now understand this to be too simple. This is just as likely to fail as it is to succeed if all you do is choose good people and put them in place. Yes, we need to choose great people with the right strengths, but we ALSO need to task them with using and improving systems that ensure success. “I don’t just want you to build a business for me, I want you to build a system of doing business for me.” This is what I now believe we need to be delegating.    

Let me illustrate. Until recently we struggled with the quality and quantity of software improvements to the IBEX Payroll. Upgrades often took longer than we thought and there was often reworking required when things were ready for testing. This still happened despite many very talented people doing the best they could with little interference from Terry or I (the owners of the business). The focus had to move from just having great people on the team, to taking a hard look at how the team did their work. We looked at different ways to design, program, and test our software, and we adopted a process that had worked for other companies our size. We started with the Shape Up process from Basecamp and tweaked it to make it our own.  

The improvement has been dramatic. We now have pride in not just the important work we do, but also in HOW we do the work.  People are asking us how we improved so quickly. It was not by changing the team; we already had great people. We just needed to add to the mix a good dose of systems thinking:  

  • How do we all work together?
  •  What is each person’s role?
  •  Who does what when?
  •  How do we track progress and adjust course when things change? Notice we do not say if things change, we say when things change.
  •  What is our cycle of decision making and accountability?
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    All these questions are answered and documented in processes that we follow and talk about often.  There is a whole vocabulary that goes along with it and new members of the team have to learn it.  

    However, one more big change was required to make all this work. I had to live and breathe this process. I am sure Richard at this point has someone else live and breathe the processes in his companies. But the point is that someone has to – someone with leadership skills, passion for the people in the process, and an understanding that how you work is equally as important as actually doing the work.  

    I have added “systemize it” to my personal mantra of leadership and I am seeing strong improvement on all fronts as I continue my leadership journey with this new piece in place.  

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