Organizations run on the minute-by-minute, day-by-day decisions that your employees make at every level.
Productivity and growth depend on the quality and speed of these decisions, made at the lowest level possible. The trick is to ensure that employees are making the same decisions that you as a leader would make in the same situation.
Training your people to make good decisions while quickly escalating the rest to you is the challenge that CEOs and leaders face daily. Here are three ways to master that challenge and ensure that great decisions are the norm.
Instill the organization's vision, values, and priorities: This is one of your most important responsibilities. Empowering employees to make good decisions only works if they understand and apply the vision, values, and priorities of the organization. This requires constant communication. If you become sick of hearing yourself talk about them, then you are doing something right.
Another critical element is to help your employees relate their day-to-day work to the company's objectives. If they understand how their individual goals support the strategic priorities of the organization, they will be in a position to make decisions that support them.
One test is to monitor the decisions your managers and executives are making. If their decisions often differ from the ones you would make, you have a problem. After all, each department head is also supposed to be reinforcing the vision, values, and priorities with his or her team. If an executive shows a negative pattern, you need to ensure that he or she understands the organization's overall objectives and has the knowledge and experience required in their area.
Train employees on which decisions to make: Only an authoritarian or inexperienced leader insists on making every decision. If you do, you end up slowing down your organization and undermining your people.
There are some decisions that only you as a CEO or leader should make. These include decisions that involve more than one department and/or that could significantly impact the business.
For others, you need to ensure that everyone in the organization understands who has authority for which decisions. A good organizational chart can help with this, assuming that employees understand their responsibilities and goals. This should be a comprehensive, living document that you update frequently and make accessible to everyone in the organization. It provides an at-a-glance answer when employees are confused about whether they should make a decision or not. A general rule of thumb is for employees to use the org chart to assess whether any issue has implications beyond their own piece of the org chart, and either make the decision or escalate it.
It's human nature to want to pass the buck. If someone asks you as their superior to make a decision in their area of expertise, insist that they make the decision themselves. If you have done your job as a manager, you should trust the people you have hired to make the right decisions.
Coach employees on decision-making skills: Sometimes employees will seek your advice either because they are not sure who should make a decision or they need help making it. You should encourage this, because it is a great coaching opportunity. Let employees know they cannot bring a decision to your desk without thoroughly analyzing the issue and taking a position. Require them to explain how they arrived at their conclusion. You should be thorough in your questioning and ensure that each employee has considered all the options.
For instance, have they thought through all possibilities? Have they quantified the issue, if possible? Have they imagined the worst-case scenario? Have they considered all stakeholders in their decision process?
These types of questions will teach your team to put in the work ahead of time, providing the best possible information for making a decision. It also allows you to do some training on the values of the company and give employees confidence in making decisions.
It's ideal to have employees making decisions at the lowest level possible. The people closest to the situation will generally have the greatest knowledge of any particular issue. The challenge for you is to find a way to balance an employee's greater knowledge of a specific situation with your bigger-picture strategy of the organization. But with the right structure and context, you can train employees to make good, supportive decisions.