“Why can’t my employees make decisions? Why do they always have to come to me?”
Busy managers and leaders ask these questions frequently. The following tips will help you dramatically improve employee decision making.
1. Clarify decision making expectations
When an employee is unwilling to make a decision, it’s often because they don’t realize they are expected to do so. Make it clear that you want employees taking responsibility. Unclear expectations are especially likely if you have been making certain decisions all along.
Clear expectations are the linchpin. Discuss the level of authority you are granting and any applicable limitations with the employee. If you don’t want them making million- dollar decisions, this should be part of the discussion. Otherwise, a collaborative approach to decision making, as described in the steps below, will help the employee gain confidence and learn to trust your intentions. In addition, this will enable you to delegate with more confidence, which should eliminate any mixed messages you have been inadvertently sending.
2. Help the employee understand the factors important to the decision
Every decision is governed by objectives, priorities and limitations. When people are reluctant to make a decision, it is often because they are unclear about these factors. They don’t want to make a decision, nor do you want them to make a decision, until they understand:
* The most important considerations affecting the decision
* The restricting limitations, i.e., money, time, resources
* The priorities of the project and the organization
Discussing these factors with your employee is a great way to develop their understanding of the challenges facing the organization. Depending on the employee’s skill and knowledge, you might also consider asking him or her to independently generate a list of decision criteria, rank them in rough order of importance, and then return for discussion and questions. Once the employee understands the priorities and limitations, he or she will be ready for the next step of decision making: identifying and examining the alternatives.
3. Generate and evaluate alternatives together
Decision making is a matter of choosing among alternatives. The ability to identify reasonable alternatives depends on knowledge, experience and creativity. Alternatives that seem obvious to you may not even occur to an employee. Generating alternatives is a good activity for collaboration because there are usually more alternatives than one first realizes. Evaluating those alternatives against the objectives determined in Step 2 allows the best alternatives to surface. Helping employees identify and think through alternatives is another excellent way to develop their knowledge of your business while also developing their decision making skill and confidence.
4. Ensure the discipline and expertise needed to assess potential risks
A skilled decision maker will not rush forward without first considering the downside of the best alternatives. Surely you can think of a time when you “didn’t stop to think,” “didn’t stop to ask someone from that department,” or were dumbfounded by the decision of someone else, “what was he thinking?” Help your employees learn to pause long enough to consider what might go wrong before they get carried away by what looks like a great alternative. Be sure they have the skill, knowledge and other resources needed to recognize relevant risks. And then help them understand the rationale for accepting some alternatives despite the risk while rejecting others because of the risk.
5. Support the risk-taking needed to make decisions
Even the best decision maker can make a mistake due to incomplete information or poor judgment. If your employees believe their happiness and job security are on the line whenever they make a mistake, they will be reluctant to make any decisions. They would rather ask your advice on every decision, even the small ones, even if it annoys you, than take the risk of making a bad decision. No matter how many times you say you want them to be the decision maker, they will not comply if they see honest mistakes punished.
If you have developed employee knowledge and decision making skill by following all of the steps above and still see a reluctance to make decisions, examine your own behavior and the way you react when things don’t work out the way you would like. Employees can smell a no-win situation from a mile away. Be sure you aren’t creating a no-win environment.
Decision making discussions, as suggested by the steps above, develop employee business sense, improve communication around critical issues, build self-confidence, and improve decision making skills. Employees with strong decision making skill and the authority to use it can be invaluable to your organization.
Ann Latham is President of Uncommon Clarity, Inc., a firm that helps executives and business owners dramatically improve the strategies and systems that provide a winning focus, productive people, reliable processes, and happy customers.
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