Please, help me solve my turkey dilemma

I grew up with a mother who was largely indifferent to the holidays. As a kid, I could not understand this. Time off school? Gifts? Holiday food? Gatherings of family and friends? What’s not to love?

Of course, my siblings and I were largely indifferent to the huge amount of work that went into the holidays. Most of it performed by my mom.

I certainly get it now. Like it or not, and as much as I anticipate the holidays, most of the work falls squarely in my lap. Dragging the non-allergenic tree out of storage. Shopping with hundreds of other harried holiday planners. Trying to decide between a too-small turkey and a too-large turkey because I’m so late to the game. And yet somehow, it just seems easier to do it all yourself than to seek help from others.

Anyone who’s ever worked for me knows that I am a five-star delegater but every business owner I know struggles with that feeling that if you want to produce quality output it’s just so much darn easier to do it yourself than to try to explain your expectations to someone else. It’s a nasty trap at home and at work but if you struggle with delegation there are ways to lighten the load a little:

  • Double check expectations. Sure we want to deliver the best product and service we can but as with anything, there is a point of diminishing returns – and at some point the curve gets pretty steep. If you don’t know where, ask your customers (or family members) what’s important to them and what they can do without. They’ll tell you.
  • Take a second look at your task list. I guarantee some of your tasks are duplicative and some of them will take twice as long as they should because you don’t have a plan. Take a “time out” to prioritize, group, and reassign tasks. It’s likely some will come right off the list – I know the closer I get to the holidays the less of a perfectionist I become.
  • Rid yourself of clutter. It’s distracting and much of it is probably unnecessary. One quick fix – look around your home or office and pick up 50 things before you move on to your next activity. This is easy to do in a house full of kids and goes a long way toward freeing up your brain for other tasks. More on organization in my next post.

Of course the ever-earlier holiday hype doesn’t help the strain. This Halloween, when I ran out late in the day to pick up treats to hand out I was met with a display of Christmas candy.

Do you opt for the too-small turkey or the too-large turkey – and why? Send your opinions to – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

Controlling the performance of others…yeah, right!

My good friend Liz recently sent me a request:

I personally would appreciate guidance on how to make an unfocused employee (my son) a better worker. Since this is a family “business” and I can’t fire him, how can I make him more productive?

Like most kids, her young son has a tendency to go “off-task”, do things outside the scope of the project at hand, and perform tasks in the wrong order – all while ignoring the direction of his older brother. So here’s the question: If you are responsible for the job performance of others, how do you get them to do things the way you want them done without providing constant supervision?

The only way I know to maximize the possibility you’ll get the results you want is to clearly document:

  • The specific outcomes you want your employee to achieve
  • The steps most likely to achieve the desired outcomes
  • The proper path to take when problems or inconsistencies arise

Then train them using the documentation as a basis. A pain in the neck, right? But necessary. Human beings are, well…human, and as such have a tremendous capacity for creativity that can result in an almost endless number of variables. None of which will guarantee you the outcome you want.

This is by no means just a kid’s problem. I once counseled a client frustrated with an employee’s handling of a piece of complicated manufacturing equipment to clearly document the way he wanted the machine run. His response to me: “I don’t want to document – I just want my employees to do things my way without my having to explain it.” Really? And just how are they supposed to know what your way is? Not to mention remember your way when they’ve been on another task for a few days or taken a vacation. And heaven forbid they are responsible for training another employee to perform the task.

Bottom line: There’s almost no way to ensure someone will complete something to your expectations if you haven’t clearly communicated what those expectations are. Documenting and training are not just things you do for your employee – they’re things you do for yourself to ensure quality, efficiency and peace of mind.

What have you documented in your organization? Send your comments to If I use them, I’ll feature your business.

All jobs are not created equal

A favorite family story…I was stopped at a stoplight with my two then very young boys when a truck pulled up next to us carrying several portable toilets. “Garbage truck!” announced my toddler. “No,” said his sage older brother, “That’s the guy who drives the little toilets around.” And then he uttered the words every mother longs to hear:

“When I grow up, I’M going to be the guy who drives the little toilets around.”

I am by no means putting down the folks in this profession – in fact, I think they ought to be among the highest paid professionals there are, along those who pick up my garbage and retrieve the roadkill in my neighborhood. But every business has its unsavory side, those tasks we just hate to do – and it’s different for each of us. For some it’s accounting. For others it’s handling customer complaints. Or perhaps it’s staying up all night to package up shipments because there is no one else to do it.

I can still remember those first heady days after my husband and I started our business. We worked at the dining room table. People were coming and going. Even the most mundane tasks were exciting and stimulating. But it didn’t take long for the bloom to come off that rose. The same tasks we relished in those early days became a real drain as we entered the Unruly Toddler stage.

Those of you who know me know that I am a big proponent of outsourcing both in my business and my personal life. The first things for you to consider outsourcing are the things you hate to do the most. Why not? It frees you up to take on the hundreds of other tasks, some of which you probably like a whole lot better. And if you’re hiring, it’s the same concept – if you hate a particular task, chances are there is someone who can do it a whole lot better than you can.

If you’re not in a position to outsource or hire, do the planning you need to do to see when you can begin to pass some of your responsibilities on to others. And in the meantime, persevere. After all, like it or not, someone has to drive the little toilets around.

What’s the task you like least in your business?

What we have here is a failure to delegate

(Just so you know, my mom has full knowledge that I’m writing this piece!) How often have you told yourself “It’s far easier for me to do it myself than explain to someone else what I want.” If that sounds like you, read on.

We just returned from a long holiday visit with my folks, a veritable family reunion full of kids, food, late night puzzles and fireworks. Great times! But as usual there was one person in our midst enjoying the celebration a lot less than the rest of us. That would be my mom – chief architect, caterer, and party planner. She spent most of the holiday standing in the kitchen ministering to our many needs despite a sprained ankle. What gives?

Well, my mother has a well-established (and admitted, I might add) inability to delegate. It’s not that she doesn’t want help, it’s that she doesn’t know how to communicate what she needs – at least not in the heat of battle and/or heat of the kitchen. We stand around, in the way, feebly attempting to help. Not a productive situation.

I’ve worked with many business owners who have the same problem. Despite their best interests and intentions, they’re still doing everything themselves. If you’ve struggled with this, here are some tips for getting out of the “failure to delegate” cycle.

  •  Outsource basic business functions. Why are you doing your own bookkeeping? There are many competent, affordable professionals who will do it better than you and in less time, like Amy LeMieux at JASS. Concierge services like Deb Brown’s Time Creators will do everything from buy your office supplies to address your kid’s birthday party invitations. How can you lose?
  • Document the way you want things done. Many professionals will not let go of certain tasks because they fear they will not be done “right”. The best way to ensure things are done your way is to document. Not only does it tell someone else how you want things completed, it also gives you a basis for evaluating and providing feedback on performance.
  • Calculate the cost of your time. Contrary to what you might believe, your time is not free. Assign yourself an hourly rate based on your salary, billable rate, or other appropriate measure. Then decide if it’s really cheaper for your to pick up paper clips or make deliveries.
  • Hire people who know more than you do in at least one area of your business. The best leaders surround themselves with smart, talented people who can perform as well as or better than they can. If you don’t do this the business will eventually exceed your capacity – and that means stagnant (or no) growth.

I’m not sure we’ll ever get my mom out of the kitchen during a family holiday – and in truth, none of us will ever cook as well as she does. But we do know how to clean up and run to the store for ice!

Send your stories to If I use them, I’ll feature your business.