You don’t have to do it all yourself

December 1, 2004 By    

With its thousands of independently owned and operated businesses, the retail propane industry seems highly fragmented to outsiders.

It is estimated that 60 to 66 percent of the U.S. retail propane market lies in the hands of 5,000 to 6,000 – mostly small, privately owned – companies. Of this group, most are single-plant operations. And of the thousands of independent owners, only a handful grow beyond a single plant, with most topping out their growth when their market becomes saturated.

 Carl Hughes
Carl Hughes

As an evangelist for growth, it has always puzzled me why so many grow, then stop. The answers are endless. Perhaps it is the deliberate design of the owners to reach a certain goal size. I believe there is more to it than that.

Inability to delegate stops growth

My point is to suggest that a primary barrier for growth is the owner/manager’s inability to delegate effectively. Suggesting that the inability to delegate hinders growth means growth is directly tied to, and dependent upon, the manager’s ability to handle more – more workload, more decisions, more instructions to employees, more customer issues.

How many of us work 12-hour days – seven days a week? This symptom is, in a sense, caused by our lack of ability to leverage our time and workload through deliberate, planned and empowering delegation.

It is my observation that most of us are very poor at passing off key responsibilities and decision making. We limit ourselves and our employees, and stop growth dead in its tracks.

I am no expert in routing and scheduling, but take your driver, for instance. If you give your driver his deliveries all laid out for the day, that is not delegating; it’s giving instructions. Delegating is giving the driver his deliveries in his zone and allowing him to make the best decisions on how to deliver his set of orders.

Or, take your customer service representatives, who have the first contact with your customers. If you give them detailed instructions on how to respond, that’s not delegation.

Organizations depend on their leaders to set direction and, quite frankly, to lead. Those leaders whose time and effort is consumed with getting the work done have no time to contemplate their company’s direction, new fronts or how to take it to the next level.

As leaders begin passing off portions of their responsibilities to others, their time becomes free to focus on direction, new opportunities and how to get the organization to a new level of performance. It truly is a matter of time allocation to spur the energy on from the senior leadership down through the organization.

Barriers to effective delegation.

I think there are several reasons we all struggle with delegating authority and true decision making. Here’s what comes to mind:

We want perfection — Any time someone attempts to do something new, mistakes will happen. The saying goes, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” Keep saying that and you will never delegate.

We don’t have time to delegate — We trap ourselves into just getting the work done – not prioritizing delegation as a part of our limited day.

I like doing the work — This is fine, but don’t complain when you don’t feel your people are effective or being productive. You will never grow beyond what you can do on your own.

Fear of giving up authority — This is a common disease among all hard-charging, independent business people. We want to be in charge and in control. The higher plane of thinking is that, by giving responsibility to others, you will have more control and authority as your business grows.

Fear of not being needed — Similar to the authority barrier, you took a risk in starting the business, did you not? Take another risk in leWe want perfection arning new management skills. Trust me on this, you will have plenty to do.

Our people are not ready to take this on — This is the right assumption for some of your team, but the wrong assumption for most of your team. Most people in the workplace are vastly more capable than management believes.

Give the concept of delegation some thought. Next month we’ll discuss adding delegation skills — empowerment — to your management tool kit.

Carl Hughes hopes his column will be a tipping point toward sound strategies. He is vice president of business development for Inergy LP and can be reached at 816-842-8181

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