Many people are faced with the stress of “so much to do and so little time.” They blame poor time management as the culprit when, in fact, the underlying issue in many cases is their inability to properly delegate tasks. They have a need to do it all themselves when there are others who can and are willing to lend a hand.
Are you one of those people? Face it: there is only so much you can do to add value to your practice without enlisting the help of others. If you find you are among the many who would “rather do it yourself,” you will also find that sooner or later, increasing demands will make you less and less capable of accomplishing all that is on your plate.
There are many reasons why people choose to take everything on themselves and refuse to delegate as an alternative to pulling their hair out. People who surmise that delegation is the way to go dismissively claim, “Yeah, I really should”… but they do not delegate. Why? Perhaps they think they are the only ones capable of getting the job done. Perhaps they always end up having to redo tasks and they feel it is a waste of time to try to delegate. I have heard others complain that they do not want to deal with the pessimistic response that they sometimes get when delegating. I believe that many managers want to delegate but have either tried and failed, or simply do not know how.
Unfortunately, instead of learning how to delegate properly, it is easier to give up. Yet this eventually leads to a decline in productivity, job and potential patient dissatisfaction, burnout or poor time management. As a result, instead of multiplying achievements, one’s efforts may be counterproductive and redundant.
Understand that proper delegation is more than just assigning work to someone else. It is not only letting go of a task. It also involves transferring the decision-making responsibilities along with the task. One should ensure the person is capable of the job and transfer the task in such a way that the assignee is granted full ownership of it. It is about empowering and trusting people.
What tasks can you delegate? One cannot (and should not) delegate everything. Carefully select those jobs that you can quickly teach and that which you are comfortable giving up to other people. Start small. Once staff has become more confident and can prove to you that they are able to handle the less significant tasks, move on to bigger and better things. Eventually, you will want to delegate specific tasks to your staff that allow you both to generate revenue simultaneously. For instance, while you are giving an injection, they can be taking an orthotic foot impression or instructing a patient about night splint wear.
What is preventing you from delegating a particular task? Before attempting to fix something, you need to diagnose it, whether it is a foot, a car or a behavior. For example, can you diagnose the reason why you feel you should be the only one who can open and sort the mail everyday? A simple task like opening mail is nothing more than a waste of valuable time for you. Are there trust issues that concern you? Identify and eliminate these concerns by putting better systems in place that will ensure the mail gets opened promptly, is distributed properly and all checks received are handled by more than one person.
Finding the right person whom to delegate each task to is critical. Review your employee skill sets. Who would most likely accomplish this task with proper training? Even after you have chosen a particular individual to take on a task or job, expect some mistakes at first. Remember that mistakes (and knowing how to correct them) are part of one’s learning and development. If your staff can expect your patience and guidance as a training tool,  they will handle the job with more gusto and confidence.
Clarify the job. Being vague sets your staff up for failure. Provide a complete and accurate description of the job they are about to undertake as well as the reasons why they are undertaking this endeavor. Remember, simply telling someone is not the same as teaching him or her. Proactively take the time to show a staffer how he or she should do the task. Explain as you go along and review possible roadblocks and solutions. Be sure to inform staffers as to whether there is a deadline they need to be aware of so they can prioritize effectively. Finally, make the necessary resources available and provide coaching that allows them to be successful in their efforts.
Manage the job. Just because you passed it on, it does not mean you cannot stay involved by reviewing progress or providing needed supervision. The challenge is learning to differentiate between managing and micromanaging. Micromanaging (a.k.a. nitpicking, controlling, breathing down someone’s neck, meddling, interfering) restricts independent thinking and creative ideas. Do you wonder why? Realize that someone else may have an approach different than yours and yet can achieve similar results. While it may be painful for you to accept at first, allow the staffer to take an alternate path. It might even be a better one.
Convey your expectations and insist on quality as an end result. If you become too lenient and let mistakes go unacknowledged, you will end up redoing the work and, when all is said and done, will have accomplished nothing. People are not mind readers. Unless you successfully communicate your expectations, they cannot possibly understand how best to meet them.
Provide incentive. Praise and reward the action, especially for a job well done. Everyone likes to feel his or her work and efforts are appreciated. When praising, be specific. Do not just mumble “nice job” as you pass by. Even if you mean it, it comes across as an insincere, empty attempt at praise. Instead, spell out why you are praising a particular staffer. “Sue, the patient history you took today was very thorough … It made my work much easier.” Rewards for excelling at a given job or task are a great morale builder. In fact, building self-confidence, providing incentives, showing appreciation and rewarding good behavior often results in repeated good behavior.
I have found that many doctors (by their own admission and for whatever reason) have difficulty “letting go.” They were trained (and feel obligated) to carry out the task by themselves and do not give a second thought that these tasks could possibly be successfully transferred to someone of equal competence. It is analogous to the “I would rather do it myself” syndrome except there is currently no magical antidote capable of changing one’s behaviors.
Change is still something we must do for ourselves and we can (change) if the reasons for doing so (or the consequences of not doing so) are understood and accepted.
I can tell you that new, revenue-generated opportunities exist in your practice if you are willing to commit to making moderate changes. Take your practice to the next level by simply removing some basic time-consuming tasks off your plate and delegating them to your very capable, trained staff. Follow the guidelines shown above and put that “do it yourself syndrome” to rest for good.
For related articles, see “How To Maximize Staff Productivity”  in the November 2005 issue of Podiatry Today. Also check out the archives at www.podiatrytoday.com