Delegate Your Decisions

Delegation is a process.

Have you ever been “worn out” from making decisions? Have you ever felt exhausted from having to think about things over and over? The solution is likely, delegation.

It is a fact that we can only handle so many decisions in a given time period. After that, our productivity, intelligence, and ability degrade.  In a paper from Psychology Today entitled, “Decision Fatigue Exhausts Self-Regulatory Resources,” the authors investigate this phenomenon.  Some of their findings suggest that not only does making decisions wear you out but that as time goes on, you will make increasingly worse decisions and have less self-control over them.

I have noticed that when I enter a Men’s Warehouse to purchase a suit, I am stopped right inside the door by the salesperson. There are hundreds of suits lining the walls, every style, color, or size you would ever hope for!

The salesperson does not allow me to just browse through them unless I insist that that is what I want to do.  They are trained to stop the customer and ask a few questions.

“What kind of suit are you looking for?”

“What colors do you like the most?”

“Is this for a special occasion?”

Based on the simple answers to these questions they are instructed to find three suits that might please the customer. Firstly, they will bring a very conservative one – secondly, a middle of the road. Lastly, they will show you a more “stylish” option. The customer remains at the front of the store. The salesperson brings the three suits up to the front, laying them out in front of him.  “Which one do you like best?” is the question asked. From there, they will close the sale. Also, they will even try to add one of the other two to the purchase.

Over stimulation can lead to exhaustion.

This approach works well because they are not over-tiring the customer with too many options. If we wander through the store looking at all of the available suits, it might seem fun at first. However, soon it will become tiresome. We will have seen so many options, so many colors, so many types of fabric, so many decisions that we will probably decide to leave and “think about it.”

How many times have you done this when you go into a store or start a search on the internet for something you need/want?  You begin wading through the hundreds of options, not finding any one thing that stands out to you. You might have even started to put things in a spreadsheet to make sense of all of it.  Still, nothing comes clear and pretty soon you either buy something because you are tired of looking or you put everything away and figure you will come back later.

Have you ever gone to a Starbucks or another chain coffee shop and asked for a cup of coffee?  Immediately you are confronted with a series of questions.

“Tall, Grande or Venti?”

“Dark, Regular, or Blond?”

“Do you need room for cream?”

“What kind of cream do you want cream, half and half, milk, skim milk, non-fat milk, soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk?”

“Do you want a flavor with that, vanilla, mocha, or peppermint?”

“Extra hot or regular?”

“Do you want sugar, stevia, honey, sweet and low, agave, Equal, or Splenda?”

And after you’ve answered all of the questions, you are granted a response.

“Ok, I will get that for you, it will be $6.50.”

It is exhausting even to read this!

What a pain!  My wife likes Starbucks; I don’t.

I want to go somewhere and ask for a cup of coffee, no interrogations, no endless choices, just give me a cup of coffee!  It makes me want to go to the local diner, the one that only serves one kind of coffee, and it is the same kind it has been serving for the last 100 years? Yeah, the one where you say, “I will have coffee.” and the waitress knows just what you want.

Why is this exhausting? It is exhausting because we only have so many decisions in our “decision bank” at the beginning of each day. As we use them up it becomes harder and harder to make good ones. We are depleted, worn out, and tired.

I heard that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Warren Buffet all wore the same type of outfit each day. They did this because of this very principle; you have limited decisions on any given day.  When Steve Jobs got himself ready for the day, it was slacks and a white T-Shirt. Every day, the same thing. They had already made that decision, no need to re-examine it.  Better to save the decision bank for decisions that will matter.

I am no Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, but I related to this principle in my own life.  I tend to wear the same style of shirt (Duluth Trading) and jeans every day.  When my shoes wear out, I rebuy the same ones. I have them bookmarked on Amazon.  My family makes fun of me because my closet looks very dull, but it works for me because I don’t want to waste energy finding new “outfits” every day!  I would much rather spend my time working on something more productive and rewarding.

How all of this relates to delegation.

If you are limited to just so many good decisions in a day, the more you waste your bank on decisions that can be made by others, the worse your overall productivity will be.

A friend of mine came to visit me from Mexico. He owned a couple of small grocery stores there and was doing quite well. It took a lot of convincing to get him to come up for a few days and see Washington, DC and a day trip to New York. He was not sure that his grocery stores would survive him being gone for a few days.  He purchased a phone plan that allowed his employees to call him in the States and he received multiple calls every hour while we were together.

We started talking about delegation, and he explained how he had to take these calls and make these decisions. After the next call interrupted us and he had finished, I asked him to tell me what the call had been about.

Friend: “My manager called to ask if he should buy one case or two cases of toilet paper.”

Me: “How many do you usually buy at once?”

Friend: “We always buy two at a time.”

Me: “So what did you tell him?”

Friend: “I told him to purchase two.”

Me: “Why did he call you?”

Friend: “Well, he did not know how many to purchase.”

Me: “You say you always buy two, you told him to buy two, why did he have to call you?”

Friend: “In case I changed my mind.”

Me: “When was the last time you did not buy two?”

Friend: “I can’t remember…”

You can still have control without micro managing.

Obviously, this conversation was a total misuse of his time, plus he used up some of his decision bank on something completely trivial! How many of these conversations had he had over the last decade with the same questions, same answers, and same choices?

How exhausting!

Why do you think that he required his employee to ask this question over and over?  I think it might be two different reasons —

  1. He just hadn’t thought to put an end to it, just like a constant drumming noise. Eventually, you just don’t even hear it anymore.  Or
  2. He did not want to lose “control.”

Business owners value having control over things.  For example, we tend to think of ourselves as the “best,” “smartest,” “most experienced,” and in return, we are very, very reluctant to lose control over our businesses. But delegation is the life’s blood of business.

But let’s think this one through. Firstly, what does the employee feel like? They go through this ritual over and over again, every time they order toilet paper. It never ends.  Secondly, the employee has to be thinking to himself, “Does he think I am stupid? Does he think I don’t know that we order two cases every time? Why can’t he just let me do what he hired me to do?”

Delegation is learning to let go.

These are valid questions, and they will lead to a variety of possibilities.

  1. You will only be able to keep employees that don’t mind being “mindless.” However, anyone with “half a brain” will be very unsatisfied in this sort of situation and will probably leave your employment for a place that “values my contribution.” You will lose any employees that you could have made into managers.
  2. The employee will see his job as just an extension of your hand. They will settle for mediocrity and comfort and figure that is all you want out of them. Why be creative? Why push yourself? “My boss wants me to go through this ritual every few days, we both know how it goes from beginning to end, but we do it anyway, but oh well, he pays me!”
  3. You will keep going down the ladder of ability until you have hired someone that actually cannot remember that you always buy two cases of toilet paper. That is a sad state of affairs, but I guess everyone needs a job!

None of these scenarios are satisfactory.  They are not a way to grow and expand your company or allow yourself more time away from the business.

How you can fix this?

Take a look at your day and examine how many decisions you make.  How many times are your employees asking you, checking in with you, emailing you with questions that both you and they already know the answers to or that they could figure it out if you just gave them a little rope and authority?

Write down four decisions that you know that you did not have to make today, but your old habits made you.

Make a resolution that declares that you will no longer be making these decisions and that you use delegation to others to make them for you.

In conclusion, as you free up your decision bank, you will be able to become more productive, more conscious and more deliberative in your decisions, allowing your company to start growing without being restricted by your weaknesses and limitations.