SBM #65- Decision Making-Engage Your Employees

Decision Making- Engage Your Employees

Why is it that so many owners think they and they alone have all the answers, to every problem in their business?

When you consider that most owners started their companies as the only employee, it’s easy to understand how this attitude got started but why it continues is the question? Granted, there will always be those technical, legal or safety issues that require the owners input, but what about those day-to-day operational, sales and marketing challenges that arise?

Businesses are not democracies

Contrary to all the discussions about managing in the new millennium, businesses are not democracies and the final decision still rests with the owner. However, there are plenty of opportunities to engage employees in the problem solving process.

Owners who think that the only opinion that counts is theirs, are doing their employees a great injustice. What they fail to realize is that they are hurting themselves even more by being the choke point for every decision within their company. The risk of operational paralysis increases exponentially.

It’s interesting to note that this frustration of having to make every decision, usually manifests itself in longer tenured entrepreneurs. It is my opinion, that the compounding effect of always being called upon to make every decision, has just depleted their patience. Their younger self, would have relished in the control and prided themselves in being the go to person for everything. That’s one of the reasons they went into business in the first place, to be in control of their destiny. It got their blood pumping.

But as a company grows and time goes by, there are many more decisions to be made. Finding the time to deal with everything then becomes a herculean task and develops into a source of anxiety and stress. The thing is, it’s a situation of their own doing and can be easily rectified, given enough time.

“Isn’t that one of the reasons

we went into business?”

Like everything in business, adopting a new approach and moving away from old habits can be daunting. But learning to engage your employees in the decision making process can bring with it tremendous freedom, and isn’t that another reason we went into business?

But before we go any farther, we must first understand that there are limits to engaging employees. If you’ve never asked for their input before, you need to contain it to their areas of responsibility and not strategic issues facing the company. My rationale is quite simple. First, by keeping them focused within their operational area, they suddenly don’t become distracted into what could be someone else’s area of responsibility. Let’s face it, everyone has opinions about other areas of the company. Keeping their input to their operational area, forces them to look inward at a deeper level.

Secondly, when you stop and think about it. Who better to help than the people doing the job in the first place? There are countless stories of large corporations ignoring input from the front line employees only to have near death experiences. What they finally realized is that they could have avoided the problem in the first place, had they just asked these same people. The same hold true for many small enterprises.

So, if you find yourself in the situation of having to make every decision and want to affect change, it needs to start with you. As challenging as this may be, you must first transform your approach and embrace the change. So, the next time one of your employees brings you a problem, instead of blurting out the solution try asking these simple primer questions:

1. What do you think we should do?
2. Why do you think that?
3. If we do that, what are the downsides?
4. Do you have another solution?
5. What are the downsides to this solution?
6. Which solution do you prefer?

Don’t give them answers

Because of your experience, there may be additional solutions that they haven’t thought about. This now becomes another teaching moment. Through this teaching opportunity, try to help them uncover those additional solutions by asking even more simple thought provoking questions. If they are unable to uncover additional solutions, don’t just give them the answer, but make sure you explain why. By explaining, you broaden their perspective and help them to understand your thinking about the business.

To make this an effective exercise, they need to know that you’ve got their back and that any of the solution you both agree to initiate could fail and that it’ll never be held against them.

This is one of those evolutionary processes that can take time to fully realize its potential. Consider it an investment that will have tremendous payoff in the future.

Taking the time to engage your employees in the decision making process, may just turn you from being a cynical employer, who can’t get employees to make decisions, to one whereby your staff is fully engaged.

When this all comes together, it’ll free you to focus on those higher value activities that should be your priority. But remember, it all starts with you!

I’m Greg Weatherdon and this has been your Small Business Minute.

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SBM #64 – Defining Moments

Defining Moments

Reading time: 3 minutes



Many successful entrepreneurs get asked, “What was their defining moment?” or some similar question. Several have never even thought about it, nor can they easily identify that special moment. Those that do, will admit that they didn’t recognize it at the time as a defining moment, because no trumpets blared or some similar event. It was only through hindsight that it became evident.

Defining moments just happen

The point is, nobody sets out to create defining moments. They aren’t goals in and of themselves, they just happen. What these individuals do though, is they get up every day and work hard to realize their goals and have been doing so long before they became entrepreneurs. What I’ve come to realize is that successful people work hard at everything they do, it’s just part of their DNA.

Working hard doesn’t just mean physically working hard, although that may be part of it. No, they just spend most waking moments thinking about the work they do and how to do it better. Hands on experiences, studying the best practices of not only their industry but even unrelated industries. It’s all fair game. And they do so on their own time and on their own dime.

Polish the stone

Entrepreneurial or not, most successful people didn’t wait for someone to enroll them in a skill improving courses or to pick up a book, no they just did it on their own. They were driven to be better or to “polish the stone” as I like to say. I have found that once this quest for knowledge is acquired, it just becomes second nature.

Throughout their careers, they have strived to be the best at every job they had. They took the time to understand what was expected of them and endeavoured to excel. Is that because of the competitive nature evident in so many successful entrepreneurs? Is it pride that drives them? Or is it just their need to be better? I posit that it’s a combination of these factors. But regardless of their motivation, they are constantly trying to improve their companies and not accept the status quo.

Successful people fail

There are millions of successful people that you’ll never hear about but successful they are. They figured out what they wanted and applied tremendous focus to achieving it. Ask successful people how they did it and I guarantee that most will tell you they never stopped learning, even when they failed, they just kept trying to gain more knowledge. It was their hedge against failing the next time, because most successful people have failed more than once.

Regardless of all the noise about successful people that bombards us every day, very few did so without tremendous effort. We never hear how hard they toiled. We only see the final result. They don’t work hard because they’re successful, they’re successful because they worked hard.

Don’t go looking for defining moments but define your own moments everyday by the choices you make.

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I’m Greg Weatherdon and this has been your Small Business Minute.

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SBM #63 – Don’t worry about the competition

Read Time: 5 mins

Don’t worry about your competition. Pretty unusual advice to receive for any business owner. To be sure, we need to know some things about our competitors like:

• Who they are
• What products they sell
• Their pricing strategy i.e. cheap or expensive
• Their reputation i.e. after sales service, timeliness, etc.

But this just makes good business sense. Far too often I find small business owners who obsess about every move their competitors make. This obsession often leads to distraction and paralysis as they are not sure whether to match a competitor’s activity or ignore it.

In industries where there is lots of competition, you run the risks of getting serious whiplash as you try to keep an eye on what they are all doing. Let’s be clear, some of your competitor’s activities will prove to be successful. When that happens, that’s your queue to borrow their strategy, provided you have the skills to make it happen, but not before.

Play your own game

Nine times out of ten though, my advice is to completely ignore what the competition is doing and to focus squarely on your own business. In other words, play your own game. What does play your game mean? Well, most us like to think we provide the best service possible to each and everyone of our clients. But do we really? Or, do we simply accept ”good enough” as our performance standard and only do our best once a customer complains?

Think about this for a second. If you were to outline what you consider to be the gold standard of service delivery in your industry, how do you stack up against those benchmarks? Now be honest. Chances are, we probably miss the mark on many and you know what? So do most of your competitors!

Performance standards

Although we talk a good game, do we really do what we say we’re going to do? Do we start when we say we’re going to start? Do we finish when we say we’re going to finish? Do we keep the customer informed throughout the assignment like we said we would? Probably not and why? Because most of us have never set performance standards.

Having performance standards is even more important as we add employees to the organization. As our company grows, we tend to get farther and farther away from the actual work. Where once you were directly involved, you could take corrective action and catch any oversights. Now, you’re relying on others to deliver the end results and you assume they know what your expectations are.

Everybody has their own standards

Statements like “we provide the best customer service” or “we are dependable” are hollow throwaway statements when they’re not backed up by any performance standards. We wrongly assume that our employees know what those words mean but unfortunately, they don’t because everyone has their own definitions and standards. The only way to get everybody on the same page, is by having a clear set of documented standards that outline expectations that are monitored and reviewed regularly.

So, what are some benchmarks or standards that we can put into place to ensure we are doing our best work? Here is a list to get you started and add to once you’re comfortable with the concept

  1. Return phone calls and emails promptly – I had a policy that we returned all client telephone calls immediately or worse case before the day was done. Even, if we couldn’t answer their question immediately, we’d let them know we were on it and when we’d have the answer. Then get back to them when promised. In a subtle way showed them they were important.
  2. Advise clients beforehand of any potential problems that may arise. For clients of my company, if we saw any stumbling blocks to success, we would advise them before beginning the assignment. In these situations, we would try to get them to tweak the parameters. If that was impossible, we typically advised them not to proceed. Why did we take that stand? It’s simple, we knew what it took to execute a successful program and we wanted to avoid marginal programs. It wasn’t worth the grief of explaining after the fact why things didn’t go as they expected. It was a powerful credibility builder when we told clients we didn’t want to spend their money.
  3. Start when you say you will. Granted, things happen that can blow up your scheduling, but more often than not, you probably didn’t leave enough of a buffer between projects for the unexpected. If things go smoothly, then getting permission to start early is a lot more enjoyable than the alternative. If you absolutely must delay the start, give them lots of notice, so they can adjust accordingly.
  4. Advise client immediately, when you encounter unforeseen problems and allow them to make a decision, instead of surprising them at the end with an larger than expected bill. That never goes over well

Too often, we get so enamoured chasing new customers or chasing the competition, that we forget to keep our promises to those customers who entrusted us in the first placed. By establishing company wide performance standards, you will deliver consistent results that make for loyal and profitable customers. I’ll promise you the competition won’t figure out what you’re doing.

Got some other ideas, let me know in the comments below

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