If you have ever uttered those words in frustration as you struggled with too many past-due tasks and what seemed like ineffectual help in getting them done, you are most likely a victim of your own poor delegation skills.
Poor delegations skills. . .
. . . which obviously waste time and cost money, usually result from the attitude that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. And lawyers seem to suffer from this deep-seated feeling as much as, if not more than, those in any other profession.
Dr. Amiram Elwork, psychology professor and author, points out in the third edition of his book, Stress Management for Lawyers: How to Increase Personal and Professional Satisfaction in the Law, that poor delegation skills can really waste a lot of time, create great stress and eventually hinder a lawyer’s career advancement. As he puts it, if you cannot effectively delegate work, “you cannot maximize your achievement through the efforts of others, which in turn means that you are limiting the extent to which you can leverage your own talents. In short, you will find it difficult to manage other people and will be doomed to being a worker bee. That is, you are more likely to work longer hours and less likely to earn the higher levels of income.”
For this reason, any task in your office that can be done by someone else probably should be. But if you feel that you’ve tried this in the past without success, you’re probably asking what things you need to do to become more effective, and comfortable, about delegating work to others. There are some simple steps that you can take.
First, spend the time it takes to select the “right” employee.
Analyze your firm’s needs before you begin the search for your new employee. Your objective is to make sure that each of your employees makes the maximum contribution toward reaching your firm’s goals. Whenever an employee leaves, take the opportunity to reevaluate the position rather than immediately seeking a replacement with similar skills, even if the previous employee was excellent. Over time, the needs of your practice will change, and you may find that there is a way to restructure the position to better meet your current objectives.
Design the job description for your new position in a way that will supplement, rather than duplicate, your own skills. If you’re a sole practitioner with a keyboard speed of 90 words per minute or skilled in the operation of voice-recognition software, a speed typist may not be the best use of use of your limited hiring dollars.
Before you hire, think about the tasks that require a law license. Unless you’re considering hiring an associate, you are going to have to continue to be responsible for all those tasks. Your objective is to hire someone to do everything else that’s left. Concentrate on the tasks that don’t require a particular skill that you have, or that do require skills you don’t have and that take up your time and effort without producing revenue. Perhaps you need a new employee who can successfully handle routine correspondence and telephone inquiries about ongoing cases, or maybe your real need is someone who is a whiz with technology and can master the time and billing or case management systems you’ve bought but never fully implemented. Or maybe your real need is someone who can implement marketing technology, such as a website or social media. The right employee is one who can complement your skills by bringing missing abilities to the office mix.
Second, hire based on your training resources.
How much time, patience and money do you have available to train a new employee? If you have an extremely busy practice, you will likely need someone who can “hit the ground running.” These people usually command a higher salary. If you have the luxury of some free time each day to devote to training a new employee and are willing to take on someone without previous experience, you may be able to save on payroll yet still end up with a custom-trained employee. Just remember that you will pay now or pay later. Hiring someone and just expecting him or her to self-train is always a path to disaster.
Finally, create a structure for effective delegation.
Make sure that all delegated duties have a due date, and that you have a system in place for checking up on tasks shortly before they are due. This will ensure that things don’t fall through the cracks and will also reinforce to your employees that you are serious about the tasks you assign and their due dates. And remember that we all learn best through trial and error. Expect some mistakes, and turn them into warm, supportive teaching opportunities that will encourage your employees to try even harder the next time.
This investment of thought, time and effort in your selection and delegation process will pay dividends in terms of your own productivity and your ability to be responsive to your clients over the long run.