Three Steps to Empower Your Decision Makers

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 health 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 may have to change a core belief in your leadership approach. Your team members are unique, with their own strengths that enable them to make decisions as impactfully as you can.  You must accept and observe that they are creative, capable of learning, committed to improving their work environment, and can be trusted.  You have to believe that, given the opportunity, they will do what is best for the company. In many companies, employees are rewarded for checking their brains at the door.  They are told what to do, how to do it, given a handbook, and then they are offered rewards and punishments for good and bad behaviors. This makes every moment of their employment transactional.  In fact, the systems in most companies are set up to undermine employee trust 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 and support.

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 health 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. This is why we don’t have “employees” at my companies, we only have “team members.”

Responsibility  If people are going to be make decisions, they also have to be responsible for those decisions.  The outcome and impact of their decision needs to be on them.  At first this may scare them, but it can also be freeing and will ultimately build their character. Reiterate to them that ownership is equal to empowerment. The more you own, the more it is yours to affect. The more you affect, the more you own. Even when mistakes are made, this principle ensures us that, while we are equally the cause of all problems, we are also the solution.

Three Steps to Empowering Your Decision Makers

1. Trust:  You have to truly believe your people are capable of making just as good a decision as you are. They may need some coaching, advice, and help in analyzing, 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 for some managers and owners. But if you want to be a leader, you need to get over it. Quick. 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. A team that owns the outcome, owns the business. 

2. Delegation:  Delegating 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 in leadership than watching a team member grow after overcoming personal and professional hurdles to make the right decision. Delegation does not mean abdication. Trust them to create the right outcome, but verify success. Ask about methods, not to micro manage but to understand the process and look for ways the entire organization can learn from them.

3. Celebrate Failure:  Many people are afraid of decision making. They will say, “I don’t want to make the wrong decision.” But what they really mean is that they are afraid of publicly failing. It is critical that you help them understand failure’s important role in professional development. Celebrate failure. You shouldn’t settle for lowered expectations, but celebrate your failures as opportunities to learn more about how to achieve success. Own your leadership role in the process, could you have provided better counsel? Are there ways you can help to improve eduction, communication or resources? When we repeatedly face failure as a learning tool, it disempowers its’ negative affect on us. Creating an environment of failure celebrating decision makers is one of the best, things you can do in your organization.

Give it a try. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

Living Every Minute

Dr. Tim

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