How many times have you been frustrated by people constantly seeking your advice or approval before taking action towards a goal? You want them to make decisions. You delegate the decision making to them, but they are reluctant. Why. And how do you get them to make responsible decisions without your having to look over their shoulders constantly?
Delegating and Growing
It’s called empowerment. Many have tried, but few succeed. That’s because the actual process for achieving empowerment is shrouded in psychological mystery. One has only to look at the reasons people are hesitant to make decisions independent of supervisory overview. Most people actually do want to make decisions on their own; but are hesitant because they don’t want to make mistakes. No one does.
I tend to think in analogies. I see a person standing on the yellow line in the middle of the highway. They want to make a decision and step off the line, but every time they do, an 18-wheeler comes whistling by causing them to jump back on the line. They say, I’m not going to take the risk again unless you tell me exactly what I’m supposed to do….boss. So, they keep coming back to the boss to seek approval and guidance before making any decision. It’s much safer…albeit annoying to the boss who wants the employee to make the decision on their own.
What needs to be understood, however, is that empowered delegation is actually boundary management. The reason people don’t make independent (empowered) decisions is that they don’t know where their boundaries are. Where/when can they make independent decisions and when do they need to check with the boss.
To achieve true empowerment, the boss and the employee must sit down together and decide several things. First, what’s the goal/objective. Secondly, based on the employee’s skills and experience, what are the ranges within which the person can make independent decisions. Ranges in terms of resources they can use (money, people, technology, etc.), timeframes within which the goal must be achieved (as soon as possible but no further than the end of this month), quality of the outcome (must meet these specs), etc. The more skilled a person is, the wider the range/ leeway the boss is going to give them regarding these parameters. The newer the employee, the narrower these ranges become forcing the employee to go to the boss before making a decision allowing for coaching and skill building by the boss. The boss’s job is to create multiple lanes on the highway so they employee is more likely to step off the center line and make independent decisions within the agreed upon ranges for each of the parameters. Once you reward the employee for taking the risk of making independent decisions within the range, then they are more likely to make it a habit.
Now that you have them moving in the right direction and making decisions within agreed upon parameters, you can keep the process on track by setting up process checkpoints. At each checkpoint, you check what their progress is towards the goal. If they’re on track, you can reward them. If they’re off track you can discuss ways to get back on track by determining if the holdup is due to an employee motivational issue of a lack of skill issue. In either case tweaking some of the parameters may become necessary to fix the problem. It’s a team effort driven by the psychological need to make successful decisions and complete goals within a pre-approved decision-making structure.
Enjoy your newly recovered lost time.
About Harvey Robbins
Harvey Robbins has been a licensed psychologist and award-winning author and consultant for over 40 years. Since 1982, he has been the president of Robbins & Robbins, a company shaped on psychology principles to coach leaders and train business teams.
Before becoming a consultant, Dr. Robbins served as a personnel research psychologist for the Federal Government and was in executive leadership positions with Fortune 500 companies, including Honeywell and Burlington Northern. He is also a Fellow at the Executive Development Center at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and a sought-after speaker at conferences and events locally and abroad.
His clients include American Express, Mayo Clinic, Nabisco, Toro, the IRS, the CIA, the US Secret Service, and many others.