Commercial mortgage companies typically want to get bigger. As your company grows, however, so do the management challenges. The owners and leaders of growing companies need to learn which tasks to focus on and what to pass on to their employees. Delegating isn’t easy, however. There are tasks that should be delegated and others that should not.
Delegating effectively begins with a clear understanding of which duties and tasks require executive involvement. As a sole proprietorship grows into a small business, it’s important to offload tasks that otherwise make the CEO an overcompensated receptionist. A mortgage broker’s energy should be spent on tasks that require a broker’s expertise, while other duties should be handed off as soon as possible.
Some delegable tasks can be easily spotted. Administrative responsibilities can be assigned to an administrator, of course. Much of the handling of e-mail and phone systems is passed along easily. Mortgage companies already have certain clear lines of responsibility. There’s an understanding of which duties require a license (taking loan applications or discussing rates and fees, for example) and which ones don’t (communicating with borrowers after the initial application, ordering appraisals, etc.). Sensitive tasks that are directly related to the transaction should only be handed out to employees with the proper credentials.
At an early point in a company’s growth, the owners and upper management will have to learn which tasks to offload and which to retain. This can be challenging. One effective starting point is an exercise called “start, stop, continue.” In this exercise, some care is taken to allow employees a safe opportunity to provide feedback without fear of reprisal. The supervisor or employer explains the exercise, then leaves.
Participants then generate a list of duties or activities they think the leader should start, stop or continue. An employee, for example, might suggest going to a four-day work week. Although this model has been shown to increase overall production, it won’t suit every office or industry. If it is presented as an option, however, it will at least prompt a discussion that could lead to a productive change. Some employees could work a modified schedule while others retain traditional hours, for instance.
The company leader also needs to develop a list of which tasks to stop doing. A business owner can accomplish this by asking his or her employees to fire him from certain tasks. Supply management is one of the duties that can be placed on the “stop” list. CEOs don’t typically take drop-in appointments with toner salespeople. Conversely, the owner or CEO should seek input from staff when creating a formal list of what the executive duties should be. Executives can get a sense of their strengths from this feedback, as well as which executive responsibilities would be the best fit.
Tactics that seek anonymous input from employees carry an extra bonus of increased employee buy-in. The staff has a strengthened sense of ownership, which is especially beneficial when it accompanies an officewide or companywide cultural shift. If you want employees to sign on with a new way of doing business, give them a voice. When employees are provided with a safe and anonymous way to communicate their ideas or suggest changes, they are more engaged and excited by their day-to-day efforts.
A powerful follow-up for this group activity is to schedule one-on-one time with individual employees. The employees can be invited to share three tasks or responsibilities they want to have delegated to them. This should also increase their buy-in. You want your employees to welcome any new responsibilities rather than consider them burdensome new duties.
Pillars of delegation
Delegating is most beneficial and effective when four principles are employed. First, delegated responsibilities must be surgically precise. If an employee does not comprehend the scope and impact of a given task, there is too much room for error. Mistakes happen, but it’s unfair to blame an employee for oversights that occur when details have been omitted. When providing details, be sure to paint a clear picture of the expectations. Good leadership provides a bow and arrow, but great leadership also points out the target.
Second, when delegating tasks, don’t lose sight of the primary goal to streamline executive responsibility. It does no good to offload one task only to replace it with a need to follow up on that task. Make sure the individual understands they will not be babysat. They will be held to their new duty. Otherwise, the task really hasn’t left the executive desk.
Third, you need to establish clear guidelines for each delegated responsibility so employees can act confidently and decisively. They won’t need to interrupt you repeatedly throughout the day with small problems. The boundaries of these duties must be clear, however. Communicate and document these margins distinctly to avoid headaches.
Finally, you need to recognize your employees for their work. This is a powerful and frequently overlooked pillar of effective delegation. It costs nothing to take a brief moment out of a meeting and offer praise to a team member who met a challenging goal or went above and beyond to help another employee. The more specific this recognition can be, the better. It doesn’t always need to be accompanied by a monetary or other tangible gift, but these types of awards are always well appreciated. This kind of small effort helps foster a healthy organizational culture in which each person is invested in the performance of the entire team.
Don’t go there
Just as important as learning what to delegate is a clear understanding of what should never — or almost never — be delegated. Leaders are in a unique position to establish the direction of the team or company. Passing off that immense responsibility shouldn’t ever be taken lightly because the culture and vision of an organization can drive growth or sink the ship. This kind of handoff shouldn’t happen until the company is firmly established on a path. Even then, it should be handled with immense care.
Similarly, hiring and developing employees shouldn’t be offloaded from the executive desk early in a company’s growth. The wrong hire can be poisonous to workplace culture and productivity, and ineffectual or absent employee development can handicap or completely stall revenue growth in its tracks. Under the oversight of a perceptive and invested leader, however, each new hire is measured against an uncompromised standard.
When major obstacles need to be overcome for a team to function smoothly, these must be tackled by a strong and capable leader. Pressing client issues, for example, should almost always be handled by the lead broker. Whether this means handling a situation that has gone sideways or an abnormally large opportunity has presented itself, the boss should be managing these tasks personally.
This also is true for administrative tasks that go beyond the level of an office manager or other administrator, such as following up to make sure a new software system is solving the problems it was intended to, or resolving a licensing issue. The responsibility of a small-business owner is 80% driving sales, 10% hiring and developing, and 10% setting the corporate vision. As the organization’s sails are being raised or lowered to accommodate the swell or storm, don’t overlook the importance of the captain steering the ship.