In The Decision Maker, Dennis Bakke argues that in most organizations the leaders make the decisions. After all, they are the people most equipped to make the decisions, right? Dennis challenges that thought, and I’m going to ask you to do the same. Who in your business has the power, authority, and responsibility to make decisions? Most decisions should be made by those who are closest to the problem. I’ll use my urgent care business as an example: If we are having a problem with the front desk and check-in, the people best equipped to solve that problem are those working at the front desk. Not their supervisor, not the clinic leader, I’m not even the best person to solve those problems.
But to make this happen in your business, you will have to probably change your core belief and realize your team members are unique with their own strengths that make them able to make decisions at least as good as you can. You must believe they are creative, capable of learning, capable of improving their environment, and can be trusted. You have to believe that, given the opportunity, they will do what is best for the company. In most companies, employees check their brains at the door. They are told what to do, how to do it, given an employee handbook, and then they are offered rewards and punishments much like a monkey for good and bad behaviors. In fact, the system in most companies is set up as if you cannot trust your employees from the beginning. Strangely, these same people make decisions every day about their families, their careers, their sports, their children, what car to drive, where to live, etc.… Obviously, they are capable of making decisions when given the right information.
Two Tools to Empower Your Employees
- Authority Your employees must be entrusted to make decisions. This means they need to know that management has their back. They need to know they don’t need to ask every time they are making a decision. They need to know you know they will make mistakes and that you will support them and coach them through those mistakes.
I love the story about a plant manager who was loved by his employees. At his retirement, he was asked the secret to his success. He said that whenever an employee came to him with a new idea he would ask himself, “Is this going to burn down the plant or cost us lots of money?” If the answer was no, he would let them try it. The same idea has to be true for us if we are going to give our employees the authority to make decisions and solve problems. In my urgent care clinics, part of our purpose statement is to “Leave a legacy of leaders.” I believe the best way to build leaders is to empower people, allow them to make decisions, and then let them make mistakes along the way … and expect it.
- Responsibility If people are going to be make decisions, they also have to be responsible for those decisions. The outcome and result of their decision needs to be on them. At first this may scare them, but it can also be freeing and build their character.
Overcoming the Hurdles of Decision Empowerment
Empowering your employees to make decisions on their own is not as easy as it sounds when you first implement it. There will be hurdles you’ll have to overcome.
The first is trust: You have to truly believe your people are capable of making just as good a decision as you are given the right information. They may need some coaching, advice, and help in analyzing the best way, but they have the capacity to make as good a decision as you do if they are given the same information. This can be a hard pill to swallow the first time you do it. One of the fears business owners often have is that team members will only make decisions in their own best interest. This is a legitimate concern, but I think you will find most people will do what is in the best interest of the company if they know you have their back. People know when they are being manipulated and when they are being trusted.
The second is letting go of power: Letting go of the decision-making power can be difficult. If you are used to making all the decisions, this is the hardest step. However, becoming the coach instead of having to be the star player can be very satisfying. There is nothing greater than watching a team member struggle with a decision while you coach them through the process and, in the long run, watching them grow because of it. It takes away your need for significance and replaces it with your need for contribution.
The third is getting rid of the fear to make decisions: Many people are afraid of decision making, specifically making the wrong decisions. First, no one has ever allowed them to make decisions on their own for a company. Second, they don’t want to disappoint you. The best way to help this is to coach team members through making decisions the first couple times. Help them along the way, but do not make the decision for them. Once they know you have their back, they will start enjoying instead of fearing the process. Creating an environment of decision makers is one of the hardest, and one of the best, things you can do in your organization.
Give it a try. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.
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