Prematurely handing off tasks

The biggest mistake we made in growing our agency is prematurely handing off tasks.

After all, removing yourself from the day-to-day tasks so you can focus on the “higher level stuff” is what every single business book tells you to do.

So we did that.

Or rather, we tried to do that.

And it was a mistake.

As soon as you as the founder stop doing a task, the corresponding feedback loop becomes 10x slower.

You are exposed to far less information. And for all the information that reach you, there’s always the question how much you can trust it.

Sometimes “it’s all good” really means that. But sometimes it means “I don’t want to bother you with this” or “I don’t want to admit that I messed up”.

And very often you just don’t hear much.

It’s incredibly hard for non-founders to judge what information would be relevant to you.

Another issue is iteration speed.

When you as the founder do a task yourself, you can rapidly test different approaches and see what works and what doesn’t.

But when someone else does it, you first have to explain it to them. Then you have to check if they actually tried the new approach.

Often they didn’t. Old habits die hard. And very few people can truly thrive in an environment with rapidly changing priorities and processes.

Then every time an idea did not quite work out, you have to figure out if the approach was wrong or if the person just didn’t execute it properly.

Now, I’m certainly not saying that you should never hand off tasks.

Any task that can be described by a simple step by step standard operating procedure should be handed off (or automated) as soon as possible.

But for all tasks where what exactly needs to get done is still a bit ambiguous, where the process is not 100% dialed in, where you need to iterate quickly, you have to keep doing them yourself until you get there.

To make this a bit more concrte, I’m running a sales agency.

Tasks we completely handed off to team members where it was 100% the right decision include:

  • Buying and setting up new domains + email accounts for clients.
  • Technical tasks like inviting new clients to Slack and making sure all the information provided by them end up in the right place.
  • Labeling emails and processing standard replies.

On the other hand, tasks we handed off too early include:

  • Our sales process.
  • Cold email campaign strategy and execution.

When we were handling these ourselves things went ok.

But as soon as we handed them off, things went downhill fast.

Even when we had team members roughly do the exact same things we did, the results were nowhere near the same.

And very often, people did not do things the way we asked them to do them.

That is, of course, 100% our fault.

We handed team members a playbook full of holes and ambiguities aned expected them to just wing it.

But more importantly, improvements in these areas went to a grinding halt.

It took us more time trying to dig out information on why sales conversations get stuck than it would have taken us to just do the sales calls myself.

When you’re doing calls yourself, you can test dozens of subtle things in a single day.

“What if I phrase the question I’m asking in the end this way?”

“What if I ask this question earlier?”

“What if I emphasize this part of our value prop more”

Writing these kind of things down, explaining them to someone else, and then checking if they actually tried them takes forever.

The same is true on the service delivery side.

Most people need well-defined processes to do good work.

Few people come up with new ideas every day, iterate quickly, pattern match, and oftentimes just wing it.

That’s the skillset you bring to the table as a founder.

But if you’re handing off critical tasks before you have a well-defined process in place, you’re not just setting your team members up for failure but also yourself.

Written on October 13, 2023

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