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.