The Challenge of Delegation and the Art of Succession

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In 1989, Jenny Morris sang: "she has to be loved, she wants to be needed, don't want to be hated, just loves to be wanted". I presume she was talking about the owner/founder of a small-to-medium enterprise (SME), because we all love to be wanted. And why shouldn’t we? We’ve dedicated time and toil to get our business to where it is.

However, the hard truth is that if you are an owner/founder of an SME, the future of your business relies on your ability to become redundant — and it’s harder (and much more important) than you might think. 

The Dirty 'R' Word

Delegation, proactive 'redundancy', handing over (and letting go!) are challenges in every organisation, not just SMEs. However, in a smaller business model the impact of failed transition to new management is much greater. At best, the business will reach a limit, above which it cannot grow, due to lack of leverage and diversity of thought. At worst, the business doesn't survive the retirement of the owner and dies a sad death, instead of creating real value for the people who have lead it for so long.

Redundancy is usually seen as the exhaustion of your competency and capability. However, if done correctly, your redundancy can allow the business to remain sustainable and profitable in the long-term.

Redefining Redundancy

Redundancy should not be treated as a single event. Instead it should be a continuous process towards the evolution of your business — a succession. As you make yourself redundant from one role, you make space for the next challenge and create space for the person coming after you.

If your business is as great as you think, (or want it to be) then you are a custodian, not an owner. You haven’t done your job properly until you’ve made it easy to pass the baton. No kingdom ever survived without placing emphasis on its successor.

So how could you start thinking about sparking this evolution process?

  • Firstly, acknowledge that while you’re great at what you do and have created something of value, you’re not that special!
  • Articulate the real value you add to your business and recognise that unless you find a way to pass it on, you haven’t finished the job. 
  • If you want to create a legacy, that is only possible through the work of others. Be inspired by the opportunity you can create for others as they take what you’ve built and make it their own. Look forward to learning from the experience.
  • Be clear about what fundamentally defines your unique value and find the right successor(s) to carry it forward. Allow them the license to put their mark on it. 
  • Understand your weaknesses more deeply than your strengths. Start the process by working to "Ditch it", otherwise "Delegate it" and only if necessary "Do it".
  • Remember that delegation doesn’t stop you from doing what you love — it just lets others do it too!

I'm not saying it's easy - it's actually really hard. But an honest approach to the challenge will allow you to focus on taking the steps necessary to move your business forward. 

At Alpin Advisory, we love working with businesses to help solve difficult problems and make great decisions. Succession is a big issue for hundreds of Australian SMEs. Let us know what you think – we'd love to explore this challenge more with you.

By Peter Seligman - Director, Alpin Advisory