The 7 Secrets to Flawless Delegation
By Noel Lloyd, DC
Dr. Smith was having another bad day. He was running behind again, felt out of control and was so distracted his patients could sense it. What's worse, it was only 10:30 a.m. on Monday. For the umpteenth time, he asked himself, Why does practice have to be so hard?
His desk and pockets were littered with small scraps of paper with scribbled reminders of important tasks. But he was losing that battle. There's just too much too do, he continually muttered under his breath.
A recent new-patient program had caused the practice to grow, but his stress had increased exponentially. Sadly, his experience taught him whenever the practice grew, he'd lose control, the pressure would build and the growth would slip away. Why even bother trying to build the practice? was his recurring thought.
As if this weren't bad enough, Dr. Smith worried about all the loose ends and uncompleted tasks left at the office while he was home, stealing the joy of his time with his family. Ironically, he worried about the family while taking care of patients.
At the end of this particular "bad" day, he slumped into his desk chair, completely exhausted, wondering how he could finish the month, let alone keep this up until retirement. There had to be a better way.
Across town, Dr. Jones had just finished a busy, exciting day in the clinic. He loved the way the whole team pulled together; everyone did their special piece to produce yet another stellar performance that was more fun than work.
"Here are your stats, Doctor. I think you're going to like ‘em." Dr. Jones' CA handed him the day's numbers neatly written on a Post-It note. After a quick review, he smiled and looked up to say, "Great work, team. We rock!"
So, why does Dr. Smith's practice feel as if he's carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, while Dr. Jones' much larger practice feel like a game? And why does Dr. Smith do three times the work and yet see a fraction of the patients Dr. Jones does? It all comes down to delegation.
Two Tales of Delegation
Years ago, Dr. Jones had a similar struggle, but learned a simple step-by-step process for delegation. That process empowered his team and cut his workload to a fraction. Dr. Smith had also tried delegating, but according to him, it blew up – several times. After discovering serious staff errors, he was often heard muttering, If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
Dr. Jones, on the other hand, did only what he was required to do and delegated everything else. What's more, Dr. Jones knew for certain each delegated task was being done exactly like he'd designed it. This knowledge alone allowed him to be "in the moment" at the clinic with patients and at home with family.
Two caring chiropractors. Two entirely different experiences. One buried by an avalanche of poorly done or uncompleted tasks. The other hard pressed to even call his practice work.
As fate would have it, Drs. Smith and Jones, who'd never met before, ended up at the same technique seminar and in the coffee line together. Dr. Smith read Dr. Jones' name tag and said, "Heard you see lots of people. You must work your tail off."
"We're busy, but it's pretty low stress. I cut my workload to almost nothing several years ago. Most days it runs as smooth as silk, since I learned how to delegate," replied Dr. Jones.
"I tried delegating and it was a disaster," Dr. Smith grimaced as he shook his head.
"My first attempts at delegating were pretty bad, too, but I learned a simple process that works like a charm," said Dr. Jones. "Want me to diagram it out for you?"
"Won't let you outta here until you do," said Dr. Smith. Both men smiled.
The two new friends grabbed a table and Dr. Jones proceeded to teach what he called the "7 Secrets to Flawless Delegation."
Delegation Done Right
1. You have no right to expect anything that isn't written down. This assumption requires me to list everything I want, which clears up most misunderstandings and synchronizes expectations. Hold yourself to this axiom and you'll have a better life.
Hot Tip: Make sure each task on a written checklist is delegable and every position has a checklist.
2. Write each delegated task out step-by-step, exactly as you want it done. Draw up a flow chart, attach a script or copy a page from your practice-management manual – just make sure it's crystal clear.
Hot Tip: Make sure every position has a delegated task book.
3. Discuss how the delegated task serves the clinic goals. This is the big why. The task makes sense to you; now put it into context for staff, relating it back to your philosophy, clinic vision, purpose and mission.
Hot Tip: Connect each delegated task back to a higher purpose.
4. Demonstrate the task for the staff. Most of us learn by watching and copying what we see, so give staff a good model to follow.
Hot Tip: Videotape tasks done right and load them onto the trainee's computer.
5. Get staff to explain the what, where, when, why, who and how of the task. Ask questions to test staff members' understanding of the task delegated.
Hot Tip: Start with simple questions on task mechanics and expand to more complex application.
6. Get staff to demonstrate the delegated task to standard. This is the only way you know they can do what you're delegating.
Hot Tip: Each task requires an actual sign-off before it's considered delegated.
7. Perform regular "inspections." Don't micromanage, but regularly inspect the completed task. Ask questions, give feedback and fine-tune the training process. This step is the key to strong delegation and keeping the task in good repair.
Hot Tip: Remember, you get what you inspect, not what you expect.
Take a Chance
"Ouch, this is too much. I'm already buried. I wouldn't even know where I'd start," Dr. Smith lamented.
Dr. Jones smiled. "I know just how you feel. I felt that way myself, but here's what I found. It was the only way out of my mess and it saved a lot more time than it took. Here's what I did. I picked a few simple tasks first, used the seven-step process and got 2-3 tasks delegated and functioning well.
"Both my CA and I were so pleased, we were motivated to do more. That's how I built my delegating skills. I just kept tackling the next task. It's how I delegated 80 percent of my work," Dr. Jones replied.
"But there's a side benefit I haven't even mentioned," he continued. "This year, I'll take a full six weeks off with the family and still enjoy our best practice year ever."
"What? Really? How?" exclaimed Dr. Smith.
Replied Dr. Jones: "Using the seven-secrets delegation process over time has my associates and CAs running on rails. I leave for a great vacation, but the delegated tasks stay in place. Everything functions beautifully."
Dr. Smith just stared at the seven-point outline Dr. Jones had sketched. It actually made sense. In that instant, he decided to change. What did he have to lose?
Reaping the Rewards
Fast-forward two weeks: Dr. Smith is proud and in a much better place than he was just a short time ago. He's already delegated four tasks and his CA appreciates the clarity of his seven secrets to flawless delegation. Dr. Smith sent Dr. Jones this email:
Subject: 4 Tasks Already Delegated, 22 Left to Go!
Hey Dr. J, can't thank you enough. Love the 7 Secrets to Flawless Delegation. I'm not flawless yet, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Practice is fun again.
Best, Dr. S
Dr. Noel Lloyd graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1971 and became the youngest practicing chiropractor in Washington. He is the founder and head coach of Five Star Management, a professional training, coaching and consulting service based in Seattle, Wash.