Giving employee decision-making powers is a really great decision.
For decades, command-and-control leadership—inspired by the military—created environments where leaders made decisions and everyone else followed directions. But over time, research has shown that rigid, top-down-only management styles are ineffective, harmful to the business, and demoralizing for employees. Even the military has moved on.1
Still using command-and-control leadership? Maybe it’s time to try a trust-and-inspire approach—where employees a key part of the decision-making process—instead. Making the switch takes some work, but it’s worth it.
Including employees in decision-making has significant benefits
Making good choices is critical to any organization. Unfortunately, one study shows that managers at a typical Fortune 500 company may waste more than 500,000 days a year on ineffective decision-making—costing organizations around $250 million annually.2
Including more people in the decision-making process has multiple advantages. For example, it leads to:
- Increased morale: When people feel empowered and heard, they’re more likely to be satisfied at work, have better relationships with colleagues, and be advocates for the organization.
- Better decisions: Allowing subject matter experts to make decisions about their areas of expertise often leads to better outcomes. For example, customer service representatives should weigh in on customer service issues.
- More innovation: Teams with diverse perspectives are better at identifying opportunities and risks—leading to increased innovation, productivity, and revenue.
- Faster decisions: In today’s fast-paced, agile world, speed is crucial. Allowing trusted employees to make decisions—without waiting for approval—picks up the pace.
- Better leadership: If your leaders aren’t focused on making day-to-day decisions, they can focus more on strategic initiatives and true team leadership.
Sounds good, right? Here are some tips for making it happen.
Start by training leaders and managers
Letting go of hierarchical decision-making is a big cultural shift—especially for leaders who are used to having control. Prepare your management team with training on how to:
- Replace control with empowerment: Leaders need insights on how to lead by inspiring employees and trusting them to make decisions without supervisory approval or fear of retribution. This includes working on communication, coaching, positive feedback skills, and learning to let go.
- Identify and prioritize decisions: Assessing what decisions need to be made and which are most important helps employees (and managers) focus their decision-making efforts.
- Define the desired outcome: Defining the goals and objectives of a decision is critical. Leaders need to provide clear intentions, timelines, and success metrics.
- Delegate effectively: Delegation is about giving people opportunities—playing to their strengths and career goals. Leaders need to analyze which employees have the skills, knowledge, and confidence to make decisions.
- Clarify decision roles and processes: Defining roles and processes in advance makes decision-making easier for everyone. Answer questions such as: Does one person decide unilaterally? Does a cross-functional team weigh in? Who is consulted for input? What happens if a decision is controversial or needs to be escalated?
- Deal with missteps effectively: Nobody is a perfect decision-maker. Leaders need to be trained on how to constructively coach new decision-makers through issues—without falling back on micromanagement or making the decision themselves.
Then, set employees up for decision-making success
Employees also need training to feel comfortable and capable making decisions. Advise employees to:
- Focus on company purpose and values: Putting each decision in the context of the company’s purpose and values is the first step in creating consistently effective decision-making.
- Get insights from trusted sources: For big decisions, encourage employees to get input from others on their team or talk to colleagues who have made similar decisions before.
- Use data wisely: Data is an essential decision factor in today’s workplace. However, teach employees that data is only part of the story. Corroborate data with other sources of information.
- Challenge gut instincts and emotions: Everybody uses their judgment and empathy to make decisions. However, challenging gut instincts and emotions with objective, evidence-based information is critical.
- Evaluate past decisions: After decisions are made, measure their results over time. Were goals/metrics met? What would you do differently in the future? Employees may want to keep a decision journal to keep track of their work.
- Learn from mistakes: As noted above, no one makes the right decisions every time. Employees (and their managers) need to learn from mistakes and move on.
Decide to let employees participate in decision-making
Empowering employees to make decisions increases employee morale, speed-to-market, and innovation. But maybe most importantly, it leads to a healthier, more productive company culture—where employees of all kinds are seen as invaluable and engaged parts of the company.
Make the change with help from Salo
At Salo, we’re building a world that works better together. We match expert finance, accounting, HR, and c-level consultants with organizations that need their expertise. If you’re looking to empower employees in your organization, we have senior-level HR consultants who can help. Contact us today.
At Salo, we’re building a world that works better together. We match expert finance, accounting, and HR consultants with organizations that need their expertise. Looking to build connected teams? We have senior-level HR consultants who can help. Connect with us today.
- Army University Press, Reinvigorating the Army’s Approach to Command and Control
- McKinsey Quarterly, Three keys to faster, better decisions