When company managers get together, one common complaint is that their staff bring them problem after problem without attempting their own solutions first. They feel forced into the unwanted position of micromanaging by their teams. It's frustrating and exhausting for them. And you can imagine how their staff feel, too -- frustrated and exhausted.
Employees bring issues to their managers when they don't feel informed or empowered enough to make a decision. It's not an issue of intelligence or capability, but of lack of clarity and confidence. So, good news! You can fix it. It's your job to empower and encourage your staff to make more executive decisions. Most employees have the desire and capacity to make those decisions -- and everyone wants to make the right calls. However, three important conditions need to be in place.
Your employees must know...
- The kind of decisions they can and should make,
- How you (as a manager) think about similar problems, and
- That they won't be second-guessed or punished when they do make a call.
With these three in mind, lay the groundwork.
Firstly, clarify roles and responsibilities if there is any ambiguity. Provide concrete examples of the type of decisions you'd expect people in each role to make. A project manager, for example, can decide when to buy new materials, but not to change the scope of the project.
Think about thresholds if that helps. One large hotel chain allocates $200 per day per front desk and maintenance employee to solve customer problems. Any problem they can resolve for less than that amount, they're empowered to make the decision and just do it. No management approval needed.
Invest time every day to explain why and how you think about current customers, partners or suppliers, and new business opportunities. When Derek Sivers of CD Baby became overwhelmed with employee questions, he started a series of impromptu meetings. An employee would bring him a problem with a customer wanting a refund, for example. Instead of just answering the one-off question for that one employee, he'd call the entire staff into a meeting. He'd explain his "philosophy" -- how he thought about the problem and how to fix it. He tried to avoid being prescriptive and instead asked, "so, now that you know how I think about this, what should we do?" Most times, employees follow your logic and come to similar conclusions. After you've explained to all of your staff how you approach an issue once, they should feel more confident in making the same or similar call when that issue comes up again in the future. This is ultimately what you want: Decisions align with your beliefs -- not an exact copy of how you'd do it.
Lastly, avoid second-guessing employee's decisions when you can see they've made a sincere attempt to do the right thing. You will undermine the trust you've built. Every time you reverse their decisions, you take two big steps back. Punishing them by getting angry or taking away responsibilities makes it more difficult (if not impossible) for the employee to ever recover, and just makes more work for you. They might stay with you, but they'll never forget that negative feeling and will always come back for reassurance.
You can reduce the number of problems and decisions that land on your to do list by taking these three important steps to inform and empower your employees. You'll build stronger bonds with your team, help them grow into more capable leaders, and save yourself a tremendous amount of time that can be reinvested in the more strategic, overarching issues facing your business.