June 5, 2024

Why it’s better to devolve than to delegate

Most often, what we call delegation is merely handing over execution to someone else. 

We’ve already worked out what needs to be done, all the delegatee needs to do is reproduce that. Exactly.  

This somewhat mechanical form of delegation works well for simple, straightforward and generic tasks such as answering the phone, booking meetings, or filling in forms. And as AI is rapidely showing us, it even works for generic functions such as preparing annual accounts, fulfilment, distribution, even marketing. As long as you’re happy with results that regress towards the mean.

But for what really weighs down a business owner, simply delegating execution doesn’t help much.

When I was little, my mum would complain about how much she had to do (there were 7 of us kids). I offered to go shopping for her.

Her reply was surprising: “Shopping is the least of my worries – I still have to think about what we’re going to eat, plan the meals, and then write out the list for you to take with you.  It’s the constant thinking about everything that’s hard. I never get a rest.” 

As small business owners, like my mum, what we really need to offload is the thinking, the decision making, the planning – in other words, the management.  And that’s hard, because it means giving up power, handing over control, entrusting meaningful business outcomes to other people.

It means going much further than delegation.

It means devolution.

But true devolution is what really pays off. 

It’s a cliché the ‘people buy from people’, but it is true. Why else do we love IRL markets, indy high-streets and even beach vendors?

People are the prime source of value to other people. Because they can always do more than simply replicate. They can bring delight, serendipity, curiosity, above all ‘sawubona‘ to every transaction.

If you let them.

The good news is that for business owners, devolution should be easier that it would have been for my mum, because we’re dealing with adults who share at least some of our values, principles and beliefs.  Who may well welcome the ability to step up, lead themselves and delight their own set of customers.

Especially if given process sketches to follow while they (and you) get used to the idea.

When everyone’s a boss, a business become free to grow further and faster than any of us thought feasible.

Discpline makes Daring possible.