Do you feel like you’re the only one making decisions in your business? And does it often feel like no one thinks for themselves?
That’s a common scenario for business owners these days. While it might be hard to notice it in the early days, over time it can get worse. Meaning, you might end up being the only person in the company thinking about solving problems. This if left unchecked creates dependency on you for every decision, even the simple small ones. Requiring your time and taking you away from other areas within the business that need your attention. Your time in no longer your own.
You’re not alone in this. So many other entrepreneurs, regardless of how big or small their business is, are struggling with the same. There’s so much you need to be thinking about in every moment, and all aspects of your business need attention, that it’s easy to overlook the fact that you have created an environment where decision making and thinking is your job and is something you do on your own.
Once you become aware of this, however, it’s time to take action.
I want to share with you 4 practical steps that I’ve learnt through my career that may help you empower your team to think for themselves and bring decision making back into your business.
The main reasons why you need to do that are the following:
- When everyone defers to you, you become a bottle neck and slow the entire business down;
- You are involved in every decision and nothing can operate without you;
- You are limited by your knowledge and expertise and involved in the most basic and/or unimportant tasks;
- You are an employee, not the CEO;
- It’s easy to come to a wrong conclusion, or take less effective decisions, if you’re only relying on your opinion, experience and perspective.
When everyone starts taking responsibility, thinking and creating solutions, you unleash the innovation within the business and that’s beneficial to everyone involved.
Here’s how you can start making better decisions in your business, be a great leader, set your people up for success, and see progress sooner:
1. Create systems for clarity.
Have you created efficient and effective work processes across all areas of your business? Are these documented? Do your team know what they have to do and how they need to do it? Do you have specific steps and actions to be taken for each task performed by your employees, so that it takes less time and effort and can be done consistently by anyone?
If your answer is ‘no’, then you’re slowing down your business growth and reducing your productivity. Documenting processes are not the sexist part of running a business but if you want to grow they are the enabler.
Systems and procedures are necessary for every company to not just grow, but also exist. Without them, the work is chaotic, the environment doesn’t breed productivity, performance is inconsistent, training is haphazard and outcomes are dependent on individuals rather than processes. People need constant training and handholding. That requires your attention too, when the same can be dedicated to better areas that will grow your business, such as strategizing, networking, and finding clients.
Once you grow bigger than just you, you need systems to get the information out of your head and into your teams. Each of these must be well-thought-out, tested for accuracy and pain points, frequently updated according to changes in your processes, industry, or new technology , where possible they should be automated.
So, if you haven’t yet got to the point where you take a closer look at your workflows, now is the time to do it. Set time aside to document your current procedures. You do have them, but chances are they are in someone’s head. Therefore, everyone does it slightly differently, achieving different results that aren’t effective or consistent. Find the pain points, and eliminate the gaps that lead to individuals having to make independent decisions. Create consistency for your team, clients and your market.
Once that happens, your ongoing time investment will be in training, continual improvement, coaching and managing exceptions, not fighting fires. You are continually evolving your processes to improve your offering to your clients.
2. Escalate your team’s level of thinking.
Most people are hired to perform a certain set of tasks within a system. But if they aren’t familiar with the bigger picture, where their process fits into the strategy, there might be misunderstandings, and time has to be invested from you. Into work that could be done quickly, problems get drawn out waiting for answers, the end result is frustrating for you and the individual as well as reducing productivity for the business.
The main problem occurs when everyone on your team is operating at a task and a process level, and their thinking is focused on following the next step. So, if there is a gap in the process they need to stop and ask themselves if they’ve performed the same task before, try to remember how to handle it (and wonder if they had the knowledge in the first place) and what was the answer last time. Unfortunately, when the systems aren’t well structured, it also means these same employees won’t have the necessary information in hand, so the decision will be delayed and they’ll need to come ask you.
With some business owners, these occasions are just an exception. But in other cases, it’s something that occurs all the time.
It’s like you leave a note asking someone to go to the shops and buy groceries for dinner and you don’t tell them what your planning to cook. They will either come back and ask – wasting valuable time or decide what they want for dinner and creating frustration for everyone.
We do this to our team all the time and wonder why they make the wrong choices. Most people blame the employee but if we had just had the foresight to remember that people can’t read minds then the situation could have been averted.
It takes more time in the beginning to explain why and link the decision to the business strategy but overtime and with consistency your team will start linking their questions to the bigger picture and be able to make sound decisions. Imagine how many hours are lost weekly just because of such inconsistencies?
What can you do? Escalate your team’s level of thinking.
There are three levels of thinking WHAT, HOW and WHY – if you give your team all three of these levels for the tasks that they complete they will be able to create context or their questions and as a result make sound decisions.
They need to know what process they are completing, how they need to complete it, as well as how it fits into the overall strategy and why it’s important. This will enable them to analyze not just the task in front of them, but also be able to quickly come up with the next step in the process without asking anyone else and thus making this take longer.
Are your employees are only asking themselves ‘What is the next step?’, If the answer is yes then you have missed ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’
You are effectively giving employees the context for their role so that they are able to determine what is important about the activity, before they proceed with it.
Motivate and engage your team to understand and contextualize the ‘why’ behind anything done in the business and how it fits in the bigger picture.
3. We learn through mistakes and they move us forward.
Can you remember a time when you made a mistake and how it was handled? Did it encourage you to try again or to never voice an opinion or risk anything anymore? Usually, we default to the latter most people criticize quickly and praise slowly.
What happens when somebody makes a mistake in the company? How do you celebrate that? Yes, I said celebrate. Celebration and making mistakes in business are closely related, environments where making a mistake and trying again is encouraged leads to better decision making, innovation, continuous improvement and engagement.
If you’re criticizing your employees - directly or indirectly, for having a go, for risking something, for trying something new they will default back to not trying to not saying anything and you are back to making decisions on your own again.
As humans, we all have a need for certainty in our environment, the ability to predict what is going to happen, this isn’t psychic powers, its having control over our environment, knowing the rules if you like.
If you ask people to try something new, or give an opinion and then you criticize them for not getting it right. Chances are they won’t try again they will default to security of not answering and not being criticized.
If you want decision making and innovation in your business then you need to create an environment where people feel safe and encouraged to make mistakes so they can learn. That’s much better than having a team of people afraid to test things, to take action without asking, or to do anything at all as it might lead to failure.
The best advice for creating great company culture is to reward your employees when they make a mistake. When that happens, talk to them and pick their brain on how they came up with the solution they thought was right and help them to identify other things that they could have considered.
4. Don’t share your opinion first.
Here’s the harsh truth: your opinion kills collaborative decision making and thinking every single time. It also stops people from taking accountability for the situation.
When you walk into a meeting and express your opinion, it becomes the baseline of what everyone works with. Some may agree or disagree, but most won’t say anything. However, all will accept it as the starting point of the discussion and most will act upon it as if it was an instruction.
Different opinions lead to diverse discussion, solutions to problems, and multiple options when facing a challenge. This brings different perspectives to the discussion and enables people to build on suggestions together.
A simple change in your approach can have dramatic impact. Simply don’t share your opinion first. During a meeting, or even when talking to an employee virtually or face-to-face, ask them what they think. This gives them the opportunity to think first and voice what they are thinking and gives you the opportunity to listen and consider an alternate view. You can then ask them questions to understand further and make some suggestions on what else they may need to consider.
If you need to give your opinion, give it last. That way you have all the options on the table, rather than limiting and containing the discussion. Then casually share why you have come to the conclusion that you have. Make it a friendly conversation and let it be a win-win situation. I wonder, how often if you try this approach that your opinion when shared is different to your original opinion.
If you want to take this further, don’t share your opinion at all. Listen to the feedback and ideas of everyone on the team, then ask even more questions to see how they came to that conclusion and what makes it practical. This gets them thinking even more and creates collaboration.
That’s how you get others in your business to take decisions even if you’re not there, and how you help the company move forward and prosper. And in the process, you create more time for yourself, an engaged and passionate workforce that share their opinions and perspectives, and a business that is innovative and growing.
If you found these interesting and want to implement them into your business, do not hesitate to get in touch with me. I’m here to help and can’t wait to see your business grow.