Sarah Ohanesian of SO Productive: How To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results
An Interview With Jerome Knyszewski
Know how to communicate. Crystal clear communication is the key to delegating. No one else can read the leader’s mind. Forcing people to guess what the leader wants is a recipe for failure and frustration. Great leaders are able to guide a team’s time and attention on doing the right tasks, the right way, at the right time. Leaders do this by communicating clearly and often to their teams. This story is an example for both points 3 and 4. One of my first bosses out of college made me pick the perfect apples from the grocery store and fresh rose petals from the garden to display before customers came in. Granted I would be so stressed out in the morning touching every apple in the store, looking at them in various lights, and pricking my fingers with rose thorns. But, at least I knew the expectations and that I had to do it and therefore I succeeded.
As part of my series about the “How To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Ohanesian.
A CMO turned Productivity Coach & Speaker — Sarah Ohanesian knows what it’s like to feel overwhelmed and what it’s like to feel accomplished, fulfilled, and joyful every day. She built the system, tools, and templates she needed to manage life as a busy CMO. Now, she shares everything she has learned and created. She is the founder of SO Productive and helps busy professionals get more done, love the work they do and still have time for the people they love!
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’m a Chief Marketing Officer turned Productivity Coach, Trainer & Speaker. I was CMO for a multinational, multi-million dollar youth education program. I worked with very talented, high-level professionals at universities and corporations. Most were amazing in their careers but they seemed disorganized and inefficient in their systems and processes. I also noticed frustration, stress, overwhelm, and burnout time and time again. I thought about how much more they could get done using the productivity system I had created as a busy professional myself. I built the system, tools, and templates I needed to manage life as a busy CMO. Now, I share everything I’ve learned and created. I coach and train busy professionals on how to be more productive, have more confidence, have less guilt, and ultimately get back control of their time.
My company, SO Productive, is on a mission to help busy professionals fight burnout by helping them get more done so they can love the work they do and still have time for the people they love!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Going from a career as a CMO to being an entrepreneur, was a shift financially. Not only in the total amount of income but also no longer receiving a steady, guaranteed, bi-weekly paycheck. That’s a big adjustment from employee to entrepreneur. But, with a lot of hustle, that income builds back over time. A mentor of mine related it to having a runway. Instead, getting another job which would be a plane in flight. Starting your own company is taking off on a runway. You start from zero and crank up your altitude and speed as you begin to take flight. Entrepreneurs need a runway that’s long enough to allow for takeoff.
I’ve never considered giving up. I have a unique gift that helps others. I truly believe that when you are blessed with a special talent it’s your duty to share it with other people. Helping others drives me every day.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I can’t think of a funny mistake. But one mistake I made was selling myself short and feeling imposter syndrome. I questioned if I belonged in this space? Was I smart enough, good enough, likable enough? All the things we feel when we enter into something new. I started getting feedback on my work immediately and luckily it was positive. That boosted my confidence and I doubled down on the work that was being well received. The lesson is to test your market early and often. Then adapt, adjust, and use the momentum of what’s working to propel you.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My company stands out as it offers true implementation and the accountability piece of the productivity puzzle. This is about getting more done. Not giving you a whole other job to do! Many people who teach productivity have intricate processes that overhaul your whole life. It’s disruptive and doesn’t work for everyone. Instead, I give clients and students easy-to-implement systems and tools that they can use in their real life, right now! This gets them more accountable and productive from the first time they speak with me. My friend Ryan Harbinson says, “Accountability is the new currency.” I totally agree. One of my early clients asked me: “how much would you charge to stand next to me and taser me every time I work on the wrong thing? You know, to keep me accountable.” I laughed out loud. Now, that’s taking accountability seriously. I’ve yet to taser anyone but it was so funny that she asked.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As a productivity coach, people come to me facing burnout.
I wrote a whole blog series about this:
- Are You on the Road to Burnout?
- 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Mess with Burnout
- 20 Simple Ways You Can Prevent Burnout
My overall recommendation though is to talk to someone about it, get help, and make a few small changes at a time. Burnout is now officially recognized as a condition by the World Health Organization. This is real and it poses serious medical risks. Yet, burnout has a stigma around it and people feel ashamed. They bottle it up, keep it in, and try to ignore it until at some point it breaks. I would recommend as a business community we all talk more about it, share our experiences, and help each other through this. Burnout was the epidemic we had before COVID and it’s only increased in recent months.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Jeff Gibbard from The Superhero Institute. He’s been a mentor and coach to me for many years but he was exceptionally instrumental in helping launch my business. Jeff helped me with so many tangible things as I was starting. How to host my website, creating graphics, formalizing my services, setting my pricing. The list of physical deliverables goes on and on and on. Yet, the biggest thing he taught me was that I have permission to be here. I have a seat at the table. Women, myself included, often feel like we need to ask permission to join, permission to speak, permission to share. We apologize for our very presence. We peek out from behind phrases like “Sorry to interrupt…”, “If I may…”, “Can I say something?” or “Do you want my opinion?” Passively participating and waiting for permission to contribute even though we have gifts to share and every right to be there. It’s not because the men in the room don’t allow us in but rather because we aren’t sure if we should take the risk, share our opinion, or participate. As women, we wonder if we are allowed. Often, the only person telling us we aren’t allowed is ourselves. I’m so grateful to Jeff for teaching me that not only am I welcomed to the table but I earned a seat at the head of it.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Delegating effectively is a challenge for many leaders. Let’s put first things first. Can you help articulate to our readers a few reasons why delegating is such an important skill for a leader or a business owner to develop?
Time is a finite commodity. No matter if you are richer, poorer, younger, older, the CEO, or the entry-level employee, there are only 24 hours in the day. That’s it. How leaders spend that limited amount of time is critical to their own success and the success of their teams. For businesses to scale and grow, one person can’t do everything themselves. There just isn’t enough time. At some point, they must delegate some of the responsibilities.
Personal health and well-being are also vital. Leaders working around the clock and burning the candle at both ends can lead to burnout. Businesses need mentally and physically strong leaders to make sound decisions and steer the ship. If they are overworking they won’t be as creative or strategic and more mistakes will be made.
Mental clarity is also critical as business owners and leaders are faced with dozens, if not 100s, of decisions every day. Employees may be coming to those leaders all day long.
Leaders also need to be skilled at managing their resources. Knowing when to delegate, how to delegate, to whom and the associated costs is an important skill. Leaders who can effectively delegate essentially have a toolbox that they can use as needed. That’s a skill that will serve them throughout their career.
Can you help articulate a few of the reasons why delegating is such a challenge for so many people?
The biggest reason delegation is such a challenge is because our egos get in the way. We seek to control things so our ego feels important and valuable. Many leaders don’t even know this is happening. It’s hard to see this in ourselves and admit it. Our egos are telling us we have to control everything. No one can do it as well as we can. Leaders fear that others will make mistakes with the projects or mess something up for a client.
Leaders also may have trouble letting go of tasks they have mastered and enjoy doing. Something that is easy for them or more mindless can be fun to do. They don’t necessarily want to take on the higher-level tasks if they are enjoying life in their comfort zone.
The other emotion that gets in the way is guilt. Leaders feel like they should be doing it. How can they “lead by example” if they are delegating the tasks. Will people question what you are doing if you ask them to do certain tasks now?
Some leaders also feel lost when they delegate. What will they do all day if they delegate? Will they still have a job to do?
In your opinion, what pivots need to be made, either in perspective or in work habits, to help alleviate some of the challenges you mentioned?
First, I would recommend making small pivots toward change rather than going in tomorrow morning and overhauling the entire existing process. Small habitual adjustments lead to a larger change.
The most impactful pivot would be recognizing that your ego might be causing a blockage. If so, take care of that first.
Collaborate with the team and make them part of the conversation. Delegating doesn’t mean dictating. Make team members aware of your goal of making these changes and invite them into the process. You may have a team member clamoring to tackle a higher-level task. Or another with a strength you’ve yet to uncover. You could unleash something spectacular by collaborating.
Be consistent with your pivots toward greater delegation. It’s important to be intentional with how you delegate. Giving a team member a project one time will not create a change. Team members need consistent behavior and reinforcement from the leader before you will see a shift in their behavior.
Finally, you must communicate clearly in order to delegate effectively. Rather than dumping new tasks on someone. Tell team members specifically what you want them to do, by what date, your goals for that project, and why the project matters for the good of the team or company.
Delegating is a behavioral change. Possibly a little painful and unknown at first, but once it’s embraced everyone will feel more empowered and valuable.
Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.
- Know what’s mission-critical that only the leader can do. In order to properly delegate, it’s helpful for the leader to understand what is most important to keep the business running AND only they can do. For example for professions requiring certification or a degree. A doctor can delegate administrative tasks of their practice but they are the only ones who can perform surgery. Performing surgery is mission-critical for the success of the practice and only the doctor can do it.
- Know your financials. ROI, profit centers, revenue streams. Leaders who understand where their money comes from and where they may have waste are best equipped to delegate. For example, items that lie outside of the leader’s zone of genius, items that would be more profitable if the leader could spend less time on them, or items where outsourcing would save time and potentially money. Let the financials guide the delegation decisions.
- Know what’s “good enough”. In order to ensure the leader is happy with the delegation they need to define in their own mind what it “good enough”. What is the benchmark for success on this given project? What is the minimal viable product? What are their expectations? Then, do #4…
- Know how to communicate. Crystal clear communication is the key to delegating. No one else can read the leader’s mind. Forcing people to guess what the leader wants is a recipe for failure and frustration. Great leaders are able to guide a team’s time and attention on doing the right tasks, the right way, at the right time. Leaders do this by communicating clearly and often to their teams. This story is an example for both points 3 and 4. One of my first bosses out of college made me pick the perfect apples from the grocery store and fresh rose petals from the garden to display before customers came in. Granted I would be so stressed out in the morning touching every apple in the store, looking at them in various lights, and pricking my fingers with rose thorns. But, at least I knew the expectations and that I had to do it and therefore I succeeded.
- Know that proper delegation takes about three weeks. A large part of delegation is forming a new habit. This doesn’t happen overnight. The way a leader worked with a team member before is no longer the way they will work together. There are new rules in place. Leaders need to be consistent in their delegation in order to teach these new expected behaviors. For example, my husband was a huge sports fan. I needed to consult the schedules of the PGA and all the major Philadelphia sports teams before making plans. When COVID happened during what should have been March Madness, he missed sports tremendously. At first. Within a few weeks, he hardly missed it. Then, when the NBA finals were on he didn’t even watch. Talk about a fundamental behavior shift! Habitual behaviors trigger real change. Leaders should be consistent and intentional about how they delegate. Giving a staff member a project one week and not the next breeds confusion. Giving the project every week will create a habit and support successful delegation.
One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the oft quoted cliche “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?
The cliche is false. Leaders often feel the cliche to be true due to the fact that “right” is subjective. People who believe only they can do it “right” are correct in their belief. It’s their reality. Only they have defined what “right” is for them. It’s not necessarily “right” to anyone else. That’s hard to combat.
Leaders who struggle to delegate due to the work being “right” often also get stuck on the work being “perfect.” I encourage clients who deal with this issue to shift their perspective from “perfect” to what’s “good enough.” By defining the expectations and parameters around what is “good enough,” they are giving someone else an opportunity to succeed and hit those clearly defined benchmarks. Sure, it might not be the exact way you would have handled it but it was “good enough.” In order to properly delegate leaders should define their expectations such as due dates and specific deliverables. And, most importantly, be able to communicate those expectations.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would start a movement to bring people more work/life alignment. True 50/50 “balance” is nearly impossible. However, more work/life awareness and alignment is attainable. I want to help empower people to truly believe that they have permission to set boundaries, communicate those boundaries, and stand up for what they need mentally and physically at work and in life. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that life and time are precious commodities we aren’t guaranteed. I want to help people love their work and, when work is over for the day, give them the tools and space they need to be with the people they love most.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
About the interviewer: Jerome Knyszewski (Kenchefski) is the CEO of HeavyShift. Jerome serves as an advisor to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies as well as entrepreneurs who disrupt their industries and therefore tend to be targets of malicious online attacks. His company builds, protects, and repairs the online presence & reputation of many celebrities, products and beloved brands.