You made the leap and started a business because you wanted to achieve big goals and you believed there was a segment of the population you could serve. As your business grew, you outsourced some of your work because you wanted to concentrate your time and energy on the aspects that were most important to you. When leading any team, especially an outsourced one, you can find yourself doing a lot of supervision and facilitating interaction among your team members instead of focusing on the big picture. Delegation of tasks and decisions is the key to staying focused on your vision, but has to be done correctly to be successful. One way to approach this is to treat all of the folks as part of one team even if they are outsourced and/or work remotely. If you’re spending a lot of time training your outsourced talent or acting as a go-between, these tips may be for you:
- Clearly articulate your vision – Begin your relationship with each team member by having a conversation about the goals and values of your company, why you started it, and who you are trying to serve. Show them the importance of their role and ask them to keep this in mind as they perform work for you. This will keep them focused on providing you with what you need to serve your customers and make your business successful. This may not have much of an impact on how your accountant does his job, but can pay huge dividends with your graphic designer or copywriter to help them tailor their creative products to your audience and speak in your voice.
- Set clear, specific goals and priorities – Nothing can muddy the water and provide results that aren’t quite what you’re looking for like being unclear about goals and priorities. Be clear about what the end-result should look like, assumptions that must be included as part of the project and what the product will be used for. Clearly define where every project lies on the priority list and establish clear deadlines if necessary. Don’t be afraid re-prioritize if circumstances warrant, but avoid doing this too often as constantly shifting priorities can cause confusion and reduce the impact of your vision.
- Determine ahead of time how success will be measured – this goes hand in hand with setting clear goals. Coming to a very clear agreement with your outsourced talent on how success will be measured and knowing when the “job is done” can avoid time consuming discussion of what “good enough” is and hours or days of potential rework.
- Focus on product, not process – Be clear about the outcome you want from each team member on each task, but don’t spend time micromanaging their process. If a big task is important enough that you can’t wait for the final product before reviewing it, plan a “vector check” and review the results with your outsourced employee. Don’t focus on the “how” the job is getting done unless the process itself is creating errors in the product or affecting quality or service for the customer.
- Have a clear communication strategy – tell each member of your team when and how you expect them to be available for communication. In today’s connected world, most communication can be done with email; just set a clear expectation of how soon you expect that team member to get back to you. A response within 24 hours is usually an acceptable standard, but for positions like your virtual assistant you may want something shorter or expect communication via phone or text. Give your team members the same courtesy; Let them know how you can best be reached, what hours you have “blacked-out” and how soon they can expect a response from you.
- Understand work flows – Get intermediate products to the final person who needs them with you only having to touch them as few times as possible. If your virtual assistant or website manager is the one who assembles and posts to your blog, It’s far more efficient to have your graphic designer and copywriter submit their input to the VA and then have you approve the final product rather than have you approve each one. It may take some time to get to this point until you’ve built a solid relationship with your creative team before you can do this, but if you follow tips 1-5 you’ll be on your way!
- Only make decisions you have to make yourself – This is another area that will require some time to develop trust with your employees, but will be worth the investment. The types and importance of the decisions you delegate depends on this level of trust. What’s important here is that you determine what decisions you are comfortable letting your employees make on their own and clearly communicating how much authority you are giving them.
I understand that these tips sound a little overly simple, but when applied properly with solid trust and good communication they can free up a lot of your time to work with clients, build relationships to develop new clients, or create new products. An added benefit is that you will be developing your outsourced employees into stronger assets for your team and you’ll be able to get more of them in the future. Would love to know how these tips work out for you. Feel free to be in touch and keep the conversation going!
Jason LeDuc is the Founder and President of Evil Genius Leadership Consultants, LLC. Before striking out on his own to start a world class leadership coaching firm, Jason served proudly for two decades as an officer in the United States Air Force and will be retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in August 2015. His most recent assignment was as an instructor at the Air War College Distance Learning Program where he served as an academic instructor to 7000+ students from all services to provide them the education needed to accept strategic leadership positions as senior officers. He has served in other assignments including as an engineer at Air Force Research Laboratory and Electronic Systems Center, a Special Projects Test Director, Operations Officer for the Rapid Reaction Squadron at Peterson AFB, CO, a strategic planner for Air Force Space Command and was personally requested to lead the Iraqi F-16 Foreign Military Sales program at the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq.
Jason is a graduate of Boston University and was commissioned in 1995 through the Reserve Officer Training Corps as a Distinguished Graduate. He also earned a Master of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Northeastern University in 2002 and is a graduate of the United States Air Force, Air War College Distance Learning Program.