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Welcome to the home of the Modern Farm Business® podcast, hosted weekly by Dean Heffta. Modern Farm Business translates proven methods and best practices from the business arena to today's modern farm leadership environment. We'll be learning from forward-thinking experts and discovering how to apply time-tested techniques to make real improvements on the farm.

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Feb 8, 2018

As our businesses or organizations grow, it becomes critical for us as leaders change our focus and activities. As a one-person operation, the number of people we can hand work off to is limited. The staff you have are typically either family members or hired contractors. With growth, it eventually takes more people to get the work done. More people means the need for better communication and coordination of activities. It also means that as leaders, we cannot spend our time simply doing the things we used to do.

Quite often at this point, the leap from one-person show to getting things done “through” people can become a potential bottleneck for efficiency, and this is where we sow the seeds for future staff frustrations. Many times we have not even really seen a good model of how working through and with others can be done well. As the operation grows, we are just trying to get through the day and get stuff done.

So today, we are going to talk about delegation. Delegation that works.

How do we know what good delegation looks like?
It’s easy to think of it as, “I sit here and think of things for you to do, then you do them,” but if you listen to Modern Farm Business #31 with David Marquet, you realize effective groups can look a lot different from that. Delegation is really the coordinated distribution of responsibility and execution. When the business is operating like a well-oiled machine, we are working closely as a team; we are setting goals and priorities; we are figuring out what has to get done; people are taking responsibility and following through.

Too often we can find ourselves creating a world where we believe we have to be authoring the task list and handing it out—or that we need to be the superhero who gets to work at 5:00 AM and stays until midnight because we refuse to get things done through people. As leaders, we might have to wrestle with some issues or hurdles that pull us down the wrong track when it comes to working as a team and getting things done through others.

Doing what must be done vs. doing what I like doing.
This is an issue everyone has to deal with every day. We are continually drawn to the things that give us joy—but as leaders our primary responsibility is to focus on what is most important to move the business forward. When we run a one-person show without proper discipline, it can stifle the growth of the business. But when we have a staff and as leaders we spend our time doing only what we love, the critical tasks of the leader aren’t tended to and the business can quickly drift—along with the team—into just being busy but not getting anything done.

I can do it better myself.
When you get into business, you have to do everything yourself—and many self-starters are attracted to the responsibility of getting things done with their own hands. We get good at things, and when we get good at things, we begin to think we’re the only ones that can do the job right. It’s probably true that we can do it better and faster, but business doesn’t move forward if the leader is stuck doing the little things perfectly. The business grows when we can train others to do pieces of the business effectively. We need to be able to find the balance of which things—if done only good enough—can be handed-off to others on the team.

“Why train people if they are just going to leave?”
We go through the work of teaching people all this stuff, and off they go—while we’re left to start over. Here’s the rebuttal: What if we don’t train people, and they stay? If we view ourselves as educators, we are not only more likely to get people up to speed sooner—but they will be more valuable either to our farm or to society. Training others requires some skill, but more importantly, it requires some awareness of what it takes to do the job. When we have done something for 20 years, we can quickly forget the fundamentals and the process we had to go through to learn. Leaders of great operations are the ones that let people into the process, they train and coach them up and expect people to take responsibility, raising the bar for everyone on the team.

Focusing on the how more than the what or the why
When handing off tasks to others—especially tasks we excel at—it can be easy to get stuck in the mindset of, “Here’s how you do this.” One of the keys of developing people who think critically and more responsibly is to grant them a certain level of autonomy on how they complete tasks. Focusing on the desired outcome and letting them figure out the best way to do it builds trust, respect confidence and creativity. This is a great way to build a team of independent problem solvers.

So what can we do?

  • Take inventory. Am I too quick to offer to stay late and do things myself? Am I reluctant to slow down to teach somebody how to do something because I just don’t have the time?
  • Look at your communication systems. How are priorities set? How does the team work together to determine who is going to do what? Having huddles and open communication that allows people to select responsibilities can take a huge burden off us and provide them the opportunity of choice. When choice is involved, respect and confidence grows.
  • Gain an understanding of your team members’ capabilities as well as their potential. What can they handle and what could they become? This can drive you to mete out more responsibilities and give them room to spread their wings.
  • Ask yourself, “In my role, what are the things that only I can do?” or, “If I could only work one day a week for the next year, how would I spend that week?” These questions distill your responsibilities as a leader down to what is truly important. Once that is figured out, we can get creative on how to get more done with—and through—others.

As you think about challenges or successes that you’ve had in your business, pass them along to me at dean@modernfarmbusiness.com.

We always welcome your feedback at Modern Farm Business Podcast. Do you have suggestions for future episodes, or questions on something we’ve already covered? Drop Dean a line; he’ll look at each email personally and respond as quickly as possible. As always, thank you for listening! See you next week!