When looking at process improvement and considering cost to serve in professional services, a common challenge is knowing when to delegate. Delegation sounds simple at the surface level. You delegate all functions to the lowest cost resource available in order to keep cost to serve at a minimum, right?
A surface level approach to delegation leads to missed opportunities for delegation, a focus on the wrong outcomes, or at worst disengaging staff with the wrong work.
At a system wide level, it’s something that often comes out in process mapping. When we work through asking questions at each and every step, we include who should be doing a task and why they should be doing a task.
Day to day is where you go beyond something you can predefine and instead, you need to get the right mindset. Too often we’ll see leaders, managers, advisers, and other senior personnel doing things they clearly shouldn’t be. These things don’t happen by design, they creep up on us.
In this article, we’ll cover a framework you can refer to when reflecting on whether to delegate something.
Broad delegation considerations
The following applies at all levels, when considering both when defined in a process and in day to day delegation.
Naturally, even those items in a process map can be delegated outside of their normal flow based on a variety of reasons.
What are the business bottlenecks?
When considering delegation, it’s worthwhile considering what the business bottlenecks are. Too often a simple cost to serve analysis focuses the mind in absolutely the wrong place. If a business bottleneck centres around a given role, we should be mindful to relieve the adviser of as many items as possible even if individual delegation decisions may seem like they should stay with a particular role, where that role is a bottleneck for the business the opportunity cost of keeping that function with that role can be significant.
Too often I’ll hear:
- Rest of the business flow is stuck, waiting on adviser file notes. We have to follow things up, and it creates rework. Also, nobody has time to sit in a meeting as an associate and write the file notes.
- I’m scared to bring in any more new business, as paraplanning is so queued up that the delays would create problems for the new and existing clients. Also, the adviser doesn’t have time to develop strategy further.
In both instances, a counter-intuitive way to improve business is to increase the cost to serve, either by having an associate sit in on a meeting to write a file note or having an adviser spend more time on strategy development which a paraplanner could do. However, when the increase in cost to serve is more than outweighed by the opportunity you create by relieving a bottleneck, the answer becomes more obvious.
This is especially true in the current employment environment, where certain roles are harder to recruit than ever.
Outcome: Don’t just think about cost to serve, think about who your business bottlenecks are and focus on freeing those up.
Who has the relationship?
Is the relationship with the adviser, or the firm? I’m guessing, it’s the firm. As such, how do you make that happen? How is that made a reality?
Without active steps taken to broaden and deepen the relationship beyond the adviser, the adviser is the default reference point for more tasks than they should be. When that happens, you make delegation difficult. Without introducing and building trust beyond the adviser:
- If there’s no relationship at all, a simple but personal question may need to be asked by the adviser. Introducing more of the team early enables more delegation later.
- If there’s no relationship at all, a minor error or some slightly bad news may also need to be performed by the adviser.
- Without the right introduction from the person who has built trust, anyone new being introduced feels like a downgrade as opposed to a shift to the right pair of hands for the job.
If individuals in your business are introduced at the point they have to make an active contribution and direct engagement, and not as early as can make sense, you’re missing:
- Opportunities for more individuals to engage, promise to deliver something (even something simple) and deliver on it.
- Opportunities to engage members of the team earlier in the process before their key deliverables occur.
- Opportunities to build relationships, not a list of unknown persons who may be called upon.
Some less obvious ways to think about this would be:
- Could a servicing adviser be included earlier in the sales process, even though they aren’t taking the lead just yet?
- Could the person responsible for preparing and implementing paperwork lead that component of a meeting?
- Could the paraplanner or technician who considered all the options and helped identify the optimal strategy be there to explain it?
I do find it amusing, how often clients will sign on a dotted line, purportedly joining ‘the <xyz firm family>’, yet most family members are treated like a weird, estranged cousin.
Outcome: Consider delegation where it builds the client relationship with the firm, and do so earlier than you need to.
Who will enjoy the job?
I’ve written about this in far greater detail in one of my personal favourite blogs, ‘Introducing Total Cost to Serve‘, which focuses on who enjoys a function most.
I encourage you to check that out, but in a nutshell, it makes the case that if the people in a role hate paperwork, do all you can to avoid them managing paperwork. If the people in a role hate talking to people, try to work around that as best you can.
When speaking of delegation specifically, they may mean someone does something they aren’t the lowest cost resource on because they love it. This can be relevant with outsourcing options in particular, where there are functions that could be sent to an offshore team member but the person doing here finds it enjoyable or cathartic. This could be an adviser who likes to do modelling as it helps them think through the client’s strategic options, even though an external paraplanner would ordinarily be a better choice.
Outcome: Consider if the task aligns with the skills and enjoyed functions of a role before delegating or retaining.
Delegating for the sake of learning
In some cases, senior professionals think the way they learned is the best way to learn. As such, they’ll delegate things that helped them learn, or be cautious about their team outsourcing or automating things that helped them learn.
“I learned how to give advice and do modelling with nothing more than an abacus, a multiplication sheet from a 1950s reference book, a protractor, and a flint. If they can’t learn from the ground up, they won’t be as good as me.” – Old timey adviser
Spoiler alert, they may be better if they can skip steps that may only have a small value in favour of steps with a greater value. Again, this comes back to opportunity cost.
When I was starting out in advice, I’d hear how CGT calculations had to be made by hand transcribed from report after report or from contract note after contract note. I don’t think Master Trusts or Wraps diminished my growth to be an adviser, even if there were lessons to be gained there.
Starting at the bottom has genuine value, to be sure, but it’s not the only pathway and may not be the best.
Outcome: Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks that may have helped you learn.
Day to day delegation considerations
Moving beyond delegation that occurs within our process design, there are all the little day to day things that don’t fit into a nice and neat process. Whilst all the above still apply, there are plenty of things that are relevant a the individual human or individual task level.
Going beyond the basics of ‘Is so-and-so busy?’ or ‘Is so-and-so a lower value resource’, some other very relevant considerations should drive daily thinking.
Does it align with their development pathway?
When considering day-to-day delegation, it’s crucial to align tasks with an individual’s development goals. This not only helps in their professional growth but also ensures that they are more engaged and invested in the tasks they are handling. For instance, delegating a challenging project to an emerging leader can provide them with invaluable experience, fostering skills like problem-solving, client communication, and project management. Similarly, involving junior staff in high-level strategy discussions or client meetings can serve as an excellent learning opportunity, preparing them for future roles. This approach not only enhances their professional journey but also contributes to building a robust, versatile team, ready to tackle a diverse array of challenges.
Is it good news?
Delegating the delivery of good news can be a strategic move to broaden and strengthen client relationships. When team members other than the primary adviser share positive updates or achievements, it cultivates a sense of collective effort and trust in the team’s capabilities. This strategy can transform the client’s perception of the firm from being adviser-centric to team-oriented. For instance, if a paraplanner has identified a beneficial strategy, allowing them to communicate this directly to the client not only elevates their role but also reinforces the client’s confidence in the firm’s collaborative approach.
Will they be responsible for the next step?
Delegating tasks to those who will be responsible for the subsequent steps can streamline workflows and enhance efficiency. This approach ensures continuity and a deeper understanding of the task at hand. For example, if a task involves data analysis followed by report generation, delegating both components to the same individual or team ensures consistency and a better grasp of the context. It also reduces the need for extensive handovers or briefings between different stages of the process, leading to more cohesive and effective outcomes.
Do you have time to do this? Even if it goes wrong?
When looking at day to day work in the grind, we see tasks that seem to blow out and may have seemed unavoidable. A task that was retained by a senior staff member because it would be quick, isn’t delegated. Usually, it’s fine, but when it goes wrong it blows out.
This can quickly spiral into long delays, as now the wrong person is dealing with a complicated mess they don’t have time or headspace for. When things go wrong, they move from small jobs to mini-projects, which are a different skill set and require the time and headspace to maintain some tenacity.
Something might be a 15min job if it goes right, and a 3hr job if it goes wrong. If all else is equal, you should be more pessimistic than optimistic when considering delegation.
- I’ll give them a quick call. – What if they don’t answer? Will you be too busy or distracted later to call them later?
- I’ll just ask the product team. – Will you have time to escalate an unsatisfactory answer?
- That’ll just take 15 minutes. – What if you’re wrong? You may not have all the information you think you do, or it may prove more complex under closer inspection.
Outcome: Before retaining a small job, ask yourself if it is indeed a small job and price in the risk that you’re wrong.
Closing the Discussion
In closing, effective delegation is far more than a mere administrative decision; it’s a strategic and thoughtful process integral to the success of any business, especially in professional services. It’s about understanding the nuances of your team’s capabilities, aligning tasks with both business goals and individual growth paths, and recognising the value of broadening client relationships beyond a single point of contact.
Incorporating these considerations into your daily workflow not only optimises your operations but also fosters a more dynamic, engaged, and capable team. By mastering the art of delegation, you’re not just distributing tasks; you’re cultivating a culture of trust, learning, and shared success. Ultimately, knowing when to delegate – and doing it effectively – can transform your business, turning bottlenecks into opportunities and challenges into stepping stones for growth and innovation.
Remember, in the complex dance of leadership, delegation is not just a step but a strategic leap toward organisational excellence and sustained client satisfaction.
If you’re struggling to find more ways to work smarter, not harder, book a time with me and we can have a chat.