Delegate wisely: Who or How?

Explore contrasting strategies for delegation in 'Who Not How' and 'The E-Myth Revisited.' Emphasizing team collaboration or personal expertise, which approach suits your goals?

Delegate wisely: Who or How?
Image Credit: Dall-E-2

I just finished reading the books ‘Who Not How’ by Dan Sullivan and ‘The E-Myth Revisited’ by Michael Gerber. They both advocate hiring people for certain tasks to free our time. However, they have contrasting guidelines on how to delegate. Let’s analyze their recommendations.

‘Who Not How’ is a book about leadership and teamwork. The main idea behind the book is that we should spend our time doing things we love and use help from other people for other tasks. Especially if we have never done the task at hand, it can consume a lot of our time to learn how to do it. So, Dan recommends delegating that task to someone who is an expert. That is, asking the question ‘Who’ and not ‘How’ for that task.

I agree with the arguments about the ‘Who’ part. We certainly should not do everything ourselves. Otherwise, we will be overloaded and won’t get the best results. It is more important for us to spend time doing tasks where we really shine at. A team can produce better results than an individual person in most cases. Hiring other people frees up our time and helps us expand our vision. But, the ‘Not How’ part is where I don’t resonate. If we apply the formula of ‘Who Not How’ everywhere, we never grow our knowledge base in other directions.

Dan suggests we should define the vision, find the right ‘Who’, and give them complete freedom on ‘How’ to do the task. This completely frees our time. As an example, Dan Sullivan didn’t write that book. He only came up with the idea of ‘Who Not How’. He figured that coming up with an idea and writing a book are two different skills. He is not an expert writer. So, he delegated the task of writing the book to Dr. Benjamin Hardy.

But, there are issues with this approach. First, we need to define the vision. While I agree that defining the vision is easier than doing the task itself, in my experience, one can define a better vision if one knows what kind of results to expect. The vision is then more realistic. Not too small or too large. Knowing ‘How’ to do the task is not essential, but certainly helpful for defining a better vision.

The next issue is finding the right ‘Who’ for the task. Now there are two hiring approaches. One, where we have figured out exactly ‘How’ to do the task. We have a system in place. All we need is a human with basic skills to follow well-defined rules. This approach is suggested in the book ‘The E-Myth Revisited’. The other approach is to give our ‘Who’ complete freedom of ‘How’ to do the task as suggested in the book ‘Who Not How’. The first approach requires us to learn the ‘How’ part and makes the hiring part easy. Anyone can follow a system of well-defined rules. The second approach frees our time and gives our ‘Who’ a great amount of freedom. The ‘Who’ will definitely enjoy working on that task. But how do we find them? How do we evaluate potential candidates for that task? There might be a huge spectrum of different levels of expertise for doing that task. We don’t even know which level of expertise we need. Or even how much we should pay for that. What do we do till we find the right ‘Who’ for the task?

The hiring cost is another issue. Dan calls it an investment. I agree; it is. But investments don’t work like that. We need to analyze the cost-effectiveness of that investment. How much time will we save? Can we make the same amount in that time by working on other tasks? Sometimes, it might be better not to hire people and do it ourselves. Dan presented no guidelines on how to do such an analysis. Note that, some ‘Who’s don’t cost money. For example, we can always ask for help from our friends and family members. We pay them by being ‘Who’ for them when they need our help. The help can also be in the form of coaching or encouragement for us to do the task.

In most cases, a team produces better results than an individual. But this is not always true. A team (of even 2 people) comes with certain overheads. Communication can become an issue. People can have different expectations. We need to spend time managing people. Did we really free our time? Besides, not all projects require a team. You might be surprised what you can achieve alone if you get slightly more organized and productive. The 2023 MIP competition is one example. Follow Tim Ferris’ guidelines about eliminating tasks before delegating them.

I think the question of ‘Who’ or ‘How’ is more complex. The answer should depend on how important the task is, how urgent it is, and whether the skill learned by doing it be useful to us in the future. In many cases, the answer might be ‘How then Who’, i.e. learn how to do, systemize the process, then delegate. This is the main suggestion in the book ‘The E-Myth Revisited’. But some tasks might be too mechanical, and gaining expertise in those tasks might not be a good use of our time. Only in those cases should we go for ‘Who Not How’.

Let me know your thoughts on this. I do realize that I should delegate more. One major block at this time is my student salary. But that will soon be fixed in a year or so after I finish my Ph.D. I am meanwhile working on creating systems for some tasks so I can delegate them effectively.

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