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The Most Overlooked Key to Leading a Successful Company

Your employees make hundreds of small decisions every day that cumulatively impact the success of your company. Are they making the right ones?
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As we've already seen, the essence of business success is the ability of an organization to make-- and implement -- high quality decisions, not just occasionally, but consistently.

In most businesses the vast majority of these decisions are made extemporaneously, on the front line, by an individual or small group of people responding to events, usually within the constraints of their own functional roles.

Think of how often your impression of a company is impacted by the small decisions a front-line employee makes in the course of their day-to-day job: the attitude of the gate agent of the airline you fly; the attention to detail shown by the team installing new windows in your living room; the dependable responsiveness of one of your supplier's purchasing team. All of these contribute at least as much as anything else (if not more so) to the success of their respective companies.

Don't kid yourself that things are different for you.

Precisely the same dynamic applies to your business: the majority contribution to your organization's success lies in the hands (and ears and mouths) of your employees.

Here's a simple calculation to dwell on: Depending on their specific role, each of your employees are likely to make between 25 and 200 micro-decisions every day, each one of which will materially, and cumulatively, impact the perception (and ultimately the success of) of your company: Will I be pleasant to this person on the other end of the phone? Will I bother answering this email today, or leave it until tomorrow? Can I be bothered taking the additional two minutes it will require for me to pack this order properly?

For a business employing just 10 employees, that's a cloud of between 250 and 2,000 succeed-or-fail events that is generated every single day. Get most of them right, you win. Get most of them wrong, and you lose.

Go ahead: do the math for the number of employees in your business. How many 'daily decision points' do you need to get right? How many in a month? A quarter? A year?

Getting these on-the-fly decisions right is mostly about three things: hiring, training and culture. Hire the right people, give them the information and tools needed to make good decisions, then build a culture that empowers them to implement successfully.

All of which is simple to reduce to a written paragraph, of course, but a lifetime's work to get right. And the trick is to get all three right - in this case, two out of three ain't enough. Hire the wrong people, and all the training and culture in the world won't compensate. Hire good people, place them in a good culture, but refuse to give them the resources they need, same result -- poor execution. Hire and train good people, but build a lousy culture, those people will leave like scalded rats.

Worse still are those businesses I encounter far too often. Those micro-managed by a controlling leader who believes that they can somehow hire at below-market compensation, provide the bare minimum of training, ignore an increasingly mediocre or toxic work environment and still somehow succeed.

Take a little time to review your hiring practices, your training provision, and the culture of empowerment in your business (This doesn't need to be a massive time-suck. Spend 10 minutes doodling your own thoughts on a notepad, then grab three or four of your most honest, open people and ask their unvarnished opinion). If you're getting them right, great. If one or more of them are less good than they should be, then you know what you need to do.

Discover how to employ, educate, and empower the people on the front line of your business. Download a free chapter from the author's WSJ best-seller, "Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization On the Growth Track - and Keeping It There" to learn more about building a world-class culture that will rapidly accelerate the growth of your business.

Last updated: Oct 22, 2013

LES MCKEOWN | Columnist

Les McKeown is the president and CEO of Predictable Success, a leading adviser on accelerated business growth. He has started more than 40 companies and was the founding partner of an incubation consulting company.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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