How these 3 startup founders effectively delegate work

Sophia Lee
Sophia Lee
August 27, 2018

A manager’s role is crucial in the workplace – especially in a startup. As a startup matures and progresses out of the early stage, founders will definitely have to think about splitting the work among their new hires. In other words, work delegation is going to be at the forefront of your duties even as you hustle hard. But how do you effectively delegate work?

We spoke to three startup founders – Ying Cong (Glints), Val (PolicyPal), and Wilson (Web Imp) – earlier this month to find out what their winning strategies to delegate work were. Read on to meet them and check out the advice they had to share!

Table of Contents

1. Ying Cong, Chief Technical Officer, Glints

delegate work startups glints

1. Delegation is not abdication

In simpler terms, startup founders should not view work delegation as giving up their duties or responsibilities. Delegation, according to Ying Cong, is a super conscious skill that you must constantly work on. It’s not simple decision-making – there is an element of training involved between you and your employee.

If you simply chuck tasks aside for your employees to do without following up properly, things might go wrong – and you might have more work to do in the end. Ying Cong spoke from personal experience: after delegating work to a new developer without much thought, he encountered lots of bugs several months down the road that were tough to fix and rectify. Lesson learnt!

It’s not simple decision-making – there is an element of training involved between you and your employee.

2. “I do, you watch. I do, you do. You do, I watch.”

These are the three stages for a manager looking to effectively delegate work. Instead of rushing in and telling the employee what to do, just take them through the motions and have regular check-ins to ensure they’re on the same page as you. This is the road to a self-sustainable workforce, which is crucial in a startup environment since startup founders have plenty on their plates!

At Glints, Ying Cong starts his new developers off with minor bugs to fix before progressively loading more work onto them. This way, his tech team is able to keep up with the gradual pace of things and eventually work independently without much of a handicap.

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3. Identify your strengths – everything else, make plans to delegate

This is especially important to startup founders, since they’re often accustomed to doing everything on their own in the early stages. Ying Cong lists two beliefs that will hold a founder back from being able to properly delegate work: you believe that you can do it better than anyone, and you believe it’s much cheaper to do it yourself.

In the early stages, it might be true that you’ll save some cash by hustling it on your own (you know the whole picture best!). But this approach will ultimately hold your startup back from greater growth. Consciously address your limiting beliefs and focus on your core strengths. Anything else outside of those strengths should be delegated to your employees.

4. A manager’s output is not tangible

The key measure of success for someone who delegates work is their team’s total output. This is an important principle to remember, especially for someone who’s been promoted into a managerial role from that of an individual contributor.

The key measure of success for someone who delegates work is their team’s total output.

For example, a developer-turned-tech lead might make the mistake of measuring themselves by personal productivity. Old habits die hard, as they say! But eventually, you need to move on to the manager’s mindset, where you’re responsible for your whole team’s output. That’s why work delegation is super crucial. You’re not shirking duties with your feet on your desk, no matter what people say!

5. Document everything

This is a tactic to help you delegate work better as a manager. Ying Cong encourages leaders to view things from a larger perspective and see the system for what it is. There are different gears in this system, and you might have played several roles before this. You’ll naturally know what happens inside and outside of it. In order to properly impart this to your employees, you need to bring out that laptop and start tapping away at your keyboard to document what goes on. Ying Cong documents his work as if he’s writing for someone who knows nothing about Glints – almost like writing a manual.

2. Val Yap, CEO, Founder, PolicyPal

Ever thought insurance policies were too complicated and difficult to deal with? Wading through all that jargon is no joke! Enter PolicyPal, a digital insurance broker and Singapore’s answer to overcoming that administrative nightmare. Here are Val’s winning strategies:

1. Delegate based on skills and experience

Val’s advice is to find the sweet spot between fostering personal growth and allowing your employee to feel capable in handling the task. Not everyone tackles a problem in the same way, however. Pay attention to the people who enjoy taking on huge challenges and those who love going for small challenges.

2. Know what you’re delegating, and communicate it clearly

Draw the lines clearly for your employee when you delegate work. This means establishing the task’s guidelines, requirements, and the intended outcome from completing it. This includes providing the tools and full insight before letting them carry it out.

Val makes it a point to explain to her employees the reasoning behind certain tasks. Bridging the gap in understanding and allowing your employees to create the link between the task and your company’s goal will make delegating easier.

3. Identify why you’re delegating a task in the first place

In general, there are two main reasons why managers will delegate work. The first is to free up time for yourself to focus on other things. The second is to help a team member develop specific skills, which will lead to a more self-sufficient organisation in the long run.

Figure out why you’re delegating a certain task – this will help to eliminate the possibility of micromanaging an employee. Micromanaging is the biggest enemy of effective work delegation, so take note!

4. Show interest and follow up effectively on a delegated task

Even though you delegate work as a manager, it doesn’t mean you should be completely hands off about it! Remember to show interest (without micromanaging) and follow up with your employees on certain tasks you’ve assigned to them.

Figure out why you’re delegating a certain task – this will help to eliminate the possibility of micromanaging an employee.

Val’s strategy to doing this is to book a follow-up meeting after delegating the task – this way, employees will have a timeframe to work with, and you won’t seem too intrusive as a manager. Which leads us to the last point…

5. Establish a clear endpoint when you delegate

Always give a clear deadline for your employee to fall back on! This will help to avoid major conflicts and bumps in the road. When you delegate as a manager, it’s only fair that you give your employee all the information they need – from what the task entails to when you want something completed.

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PolicyPal is into the habit of holding daily standups with its employees – to go through what was accomplished the day before and to plan ahead for the rest of the work week. “When our team was much smaller, this was not really necessary,” Val pointed out. “Now that we’ve grown by quite a few members, communication has become a greater challenge to tackle.”

3. Wilson Tan, Founder, Web Imp

Web Imp is a Singapore-based tech hub that builds digital solutions across various platforms, including web applications and cloud solutions with a dash of high quality, responsive designs. Wilson, Web Imp’s founder, shared his strategies and philosophies for one to effectively delegate work:

1. Do not micromanage

This is something most startup founders might end up doing, according to Wilson – especially if they’re the type to want things done in a “prim and proper” fashion. Perfectionism has a hand in this too – leaders who micromanage are often concerned that their employees will not do as perfect a job as they would like. And while it’s totally cool to value your work so deeply, there are just too many departments within an organisation (even a startup) to fully handle on your own. Sooner or later, work delegation is inevitable.

2. Using documentation and Standard Operating Procedures

Tasks, according to Wilson, are just one-off events that may or may not be repeated in the future. Structures are different. This is where Standard Operating Procedures come into play. For example, filing expenses is a process that will occur repeatedly no matter which part of the year it is – so it’s a structure. Wilson delegates these structures to his employees with the help of detailed documentation instead of depending on word of mouth. When imparting a key work process, make sure every bit of information is included when you delegate instead of leaning on your own memory.

3. Don’t get the wrong personnel to carry out a task

Passing a task that requires care to someone who isn’t meticulous is a recipe for disaster. For example, a job for the finance department will always involve lots of numbers and is super sensitive to errors. Passing the job to someone who’s more attuned to sales might spell a bad outcome, since they might not necessarily be as detailed and careful as someone who’s fully focused on finance. Wilson urges the importance of finding the most suitable person for a task, no matter how big or small it is.

When imparting a key work process, make sure every bit of information is included when you delegate instead of leaning on your own memory.

4. Rewards and punishments are equally important

Wilson stresses the importance of showing his employees the consequences of their mistakes, no matter how big or small. It might sound really grave, but it’s important not to let your employees assume that small mistakes are minor enough to be repeated without consequence. This will ensure a more motivated and disciplined workforce, and minimal disruptions to productivity.

5. The road to achieving balance between micromanaging and being too hands-off

Wilson tries to achieve balance when he delegates. To do this, he’s established a culture where it’s natural for his employees to drop him regular updates on what they’re doing – whether it’s through a WhatsApp text message or email. Instead of him actively pursuing them for updates, his employees keep him in the loop. Startup founders who delegate work often have to be out of the office most of the time. Wilson doesn’t want his employees to wait till he’s back before unloading updates on him. Efficiency is the name of the game, here!

6. Before you delegate, lead by example

Leading by example is important – Wilson does this often to ensure that his employees carry out their jobs the way he expects them to. Instead of leaving your employees to flounder in the water on their own, take the lead first before letting them go solo. This will also help to clear any doubts they might have regarding a certain task or project, and make things that much smoother for everyone. Win-win!

Instead of leaving your employees to flounder in the water on their own, take the lead first before letting them go solo.

Recharged by these startup founders’ awesome advice? Ready to start delegating work better than before? Lean on these strategies and you’ll have a more productive workplace in no time.

If you’re looking for more opportunities to scale your team (so you have more people to delegate work to), hop over to Glints’ platform and start searching for the best candidates out there!

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