Don’t Tell Your Employees What to Do

Have you ever been held hostage in a store’s checkout line because the employee didn’t have the authority to make a logical decision on their own?

We have all been in that line at one time or another. A decision has to be made, the employee knows what to do, but because they do not have the authority to execute it, additional sales are lost, and innocent customers are inconvenienced. Sometimes you can actually see the feeling of inadequacy on the face of the employee as they wait for the manager to arrive and make the final approval on a $2 transaction.

You’ve seen other businesses make that mistake. But could you be micromanaging your business and not even realize it?

One of the surest ways to hold back a business is for the owner to never let employees truly take the reins of a project, process or task.

The owner micromanages every detail of each project, because they fear one mistake will erase all the blood, sweat and tears they have put into the business. The passion for their business to succeed is so powerful; they don’t think anyone else could possibly care as much as they do. So the company lives in this constant cycle of running every decision past the owner. Productivity is hampered, and creative, innovative ideas (besides the owner’s) are seldom even considered, because employee suggestions seem pointless.

The reality is this: Most employees want to do the right thing. Most employees, when given an opportunity, want to make choices that are best for the company. Most employees, when they are given a challenge with a goal in mind, will work diligently to find a creative solution. The bottom line is your employees want to succeed, too!

Maybe you have already identified this in your business and think you have addressed it. One way to self-test your business is to simply ask yourself this question: “If tomorrow I leave the business for two weeks, how will my employees perform in my absence?” If you truly think you will not be contacted and your company will continue to grow, innovate and perform smoothly without you, congratulations! But more than likely the thought of a two-week sabbatical created some level of fear.

4 Ways to Start Breaking the Cycle

If you have ever been guilty of over-directing your company, don’t overreact. After all, it is your business; you are ultimately where the buck stops on all decisions. Your degree of ownership validates the concern.

That said, here are four ways to slowly start changing the culture of your business from less of a dictatorship to more of a democracy where employees strive to be innovative and manage the company resources effectively without constant directives from the owner.

Start small // Identify two projects or processes you are currently “hovering” over that do not involve your largest account or have significant financial impact on your business. If all your business falls in the aforementioned categories, choose two small sections within them.

For projects // The next time your company launches a project, decide what the end goal is instead of dictating a step-by-step procedure. Share that goal with the employee or team working on the project. Focus on the overall objective and, as a group, decide on a realistic timetable for completion—then turn them loose.

For processes // As an example, let’s say you want to give your salesperson more autonomy. Instead of setting hard limits on discounts and margins, set some general parameters. That way, the salesperson has the authority to make decisions on the spot and keep the process moving forward, while still maintaining acceptable margins. Reward salespeople who are able to keep margins higher.

Sharing ownership // The more you involve your employees when creating company guidelines, the more ownership workers will take in honoring those rules. In most cases, just conveying the message to “spend money like it was their own” goes a long way in getting your employees to take ownership for their decisions.

By starting small, you can monitor the results without jeopardizing your business. You may be surprised to find out just how innovative and creative your team might be when you get out of their way and let them do what you hired them to do in the first place: help your growing business!