The buck stops here. As a decision maker, every choice you make concerning the business affects the business, its employees, and even its clients. Many of those consequences may be minor, such as changing the brand of copy paper used in the office. Other decisions carry far-reaching and significant consequences that swing the pendulum of success from achievement to failure and back again. Savvy decision makers don’t assume they know every facet to every decision that must be made concerning their companies, or even their departments. They also have more to do than make decisions all day every day. In short, they delegate.
While important corporate decisions that affect employee livelihoods and clients should follow standard guidelines to ensure that those decisions are made from thorough analysis of the best information available, strict protocols that force decision making along a specific path stifle creativity and prevent innovation. Approval processes that add layer upon layer of unnecessary bureaucracy also clog the pipeline for simply conducting business.
Case in point: A manager needed a bookcase to hold the many manuals related to regulatory, organization and union rules, and the vehicles repaired and maintained by that department. The manager identified the basic bookcase that would serve the purpose and submitted the request for approval to his supervisor. He approved the purchase and submitted it to the next manager in the organizational hierarchy. That manager disapproved with the comment, “What are you going to do with this piece of equipment?” The manager’s sarcastic response to a colleague: “I’m going to build a nuclear submarine with it. What does he think I’m going to do with a bookcase?” The manuals remained in piles on his office floor.
Decision makers at every level need freedom to make the choices that will aid in their work. While executives understand that approvals are necessary to avoid unreasonable purchases, excessive layers of bureaucracy add frustration and resentment.
In addition to facilitating the daily work of business, decision making authority increases productivity and job satisfaction. According to Discover Business, “In a recent study from the University of Chicago School of Business, research found that happiness depends more on opportunities to make decisions (i.e., freedom) rather than money or connections.” Rather than hold tightly to authority and power, executives can unleash the productive and innovative potential of their employees by helping them learn to make good decisions.
The 6-step value analysis process, cause-and-effect analysis models, PEST, FMEA, and SWOT analysis, and other decision-making strategies aid in:
● Determining what information is pertinent to the issue,
● Collecting the necessary information,
● Analyzing the information,
● Generating ideas for resolving the issue,
● Evaluating those ideas for feasibility and benefit,
● Selecting the best ideas for action.
Critical decision making depends upon asking questions–the right questions. If you remember your parents urging you to think before you speak, carry this a step further: Think before you act. The thinking process involves critical questioning that “allows you to clearly distinguish facts from biases, stakeholders from observers, and solutions from potential solutions.”
Contrary to the belief of many executives, structure, scale, and disposition of resources do not determine performance, although they may affect it. In their article “The Decision-Driven Organization,” Marcia W. Blenko, Michael Mankins, and Paul Rogers refer to a study by Bain & Company: “57 reorgs between 2000 and 2006 found that fewer than one-third produced any meaningful improvement in performance. Most had no effect, and some actually destroyed value.” Their research shows that structure, scale, and disposition of resources “produce better performance if and only if it improves the organization’s ability to make and execute key decisions better and faster than competitors.” That means innovation, not organization, should be a company’s strategic priority.
Innovation requires freedom.
Every successful author writer learns this key concept that C-suite executives would do well to apply to their everyday business interactions: show, don’t tell. Applied to business interaction and management, the concept doesn’t refer to using active verbs whenever possible; it refers to the old axiom that actions speak louder than words. Another truism: good leaders model the behavior they want their employees to emulate. It’s the old “monkey see, monkey do” principle. The capacity to lead requires traits like integrity and decisiveness. To inspire people to follow you, you must demonstrate that you’re worthy of their trust and earn their respect.
Lisa Martin’s article “Defining Leadership: Actions Speak Louder than Words,” offers four levels of leadership that graduate from being put into a leadership position and offered the opportunity to lead to gaining the respect and trust of people because you demonstrate that you have their best interests at heart to mentoring people because their success does not threaten you. Good leaders do not succumb to their insecurities.
The potency of action shows your commitment to the best interests of those who work for you and the clients for whom you work. That commitment shows up as ethical behavior, not as motivational posters that give lip service to virtue. “Your business ethics will be tested throughout your journey as an entrepreneur, and the way in which you react to situations and problems will determine your reputation as a company. It’s important to set your standards from the start,” writes David Ingram in his article “6 Tips on Building an Ethical Company: Ethics Speak Louder than Words.” He adds, “Good quality relationships built on respect and trust—not necessarily agreement, because people need to spark off each other—are the single most important determinant of organizational success.”
The behavior modeled at the top rungs of the corporate ladder set the tone for the entire company. While the company’s employee manual may specify certain types of responsibilities, actions, and values—and these do need to be clearly communicated to ensure a common level of understanding—if management won’t follow the rules, then labor cannot be expected to do so. This is nowhere more clearly demonstrated than at the retail counter.
Consider the following true scenario: A customer demanded to return and receive a refund for a fully functional coffee maker that he’d purchased six months earlier and used. The clerk denied the return; however, the department supervisor accepted it and refunded the cost. There were two primary consequences. First, the customer learned that company policy did not apply to the customer. Second, every clerk in the store learned that the company for which they worked was dishonest and did not support its employees. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the negative consequences resulting from those lessons learned.
The upshot is that actions have consequences. The action of leadership affects employees’ perceptions in their workplace. In their article “Actions Speak Louder than Words: CEO Conduct that Counts,” authors Melanie Sanders, Meredith Hellicar, and Kathryn Fagg conclude their research with the following statement: “The bottom line: Employees are canny observers of reality rather than rhetoric.” To extract the best from your employees and to earn your clients’ respect, we’ll end with another axiom: Practice what you preach.
Business growth requires investment in the future, even during tough times. Prudent growth cautions against being penny wise and pound foolish and invests in people. An IT consultant once made the observation that the small foundries whose computer systems he managed tended to make the same general mistake: When the going got tough, they laid off their design engineers who were the highest paid employees. Then, when they needed someone to design the tools and parts for their production people to make, they found themselves at a loss because they no longer had design engineers.
Especially during periods of slow business, “organisations that treat employees like disposable assets rather than their most valuable one inevitably suffer across the spectrum of retention, recruitment, productivity, customer service, brand reputations–and profits,” writes Stephen De Kalb, TP3 Head of Marketing. In other words, shortchanging staff to save money only damages the business by reducing capacity, destroying morale, and building resentment. Your clients know when your employees just don’t care any more.
Business growth demands investment in your human resources, not just equipment and technology. However, equipment and technology upgrades, easier to manage and quantify than people, should be included in the commitment to growing the business.
● Improve your website. This effort requires thoroughly understanding your current website. Google Analytics offers a good place to start, but don’t just count “clicks” or the number of visits. Analyze navigation through the site, the appearance, and the content. Consider deleting anything that obstructs navigation, obfuscates comprehension, and just doesn’t advance the purpose of the site. Every word and every graphic on the site must serve a purpose.
● Repurpose your content. That white paper your vice president spent a week to write might not be your best marketing vehicle; however, the information contained within it is perfect for promoting your business. Find ways to distil and restate information so that it engages as well as informs. Use infographics to convey in a picture what would take a thousand words to explain.
● Understand the true cost to acquire new customers–and retain existing ones. As advised in the RevUp Blog by Betaspring, “Everyone’s acquisition performance varies over time. Knowing that, you can’t divide lifetime costs by lifetime customers. You end up with a skewed number that doesn’t reflect what’s actually going on.”
Commitment to growth requires just that: commitment. Business growth won’t happen without the wholehearted support of your staff. Don’t just say the words, let your actions lend meaning and veracity. Writing for SmartCEO.com, Jeff Hanhausen says, “If you’re going to grow revenues and margins, it will require a superior level of coordination and collaboration.” This refers to people, not equipment or technology. People must work together and support the goal because they support the goal, not because they’re afraid for their jobs. He adds, “You cannot grow revenues and margins until this is accepted, committed to and planned for. So if we’re going to talk about growing, first you must produce powerful teams.”
Calling a group a people a team doesn’t make it so. The old truism “There’s no I in TEAM” is often followed by a cynical response: “But there’s a U in SUCK.” In a real team, the focus shifts from the individual to the whole. “Some high-performance traits, like assertiveness, negatively affect teams,” notes Hanhausen. The people on a genuine team bring out the best in each other. They work effectively with each other. Unlike certain televised competitions in which “teams” are comprised of individual competitors who must cooperate for a short period in order to overcome a single, short-lived challenge, a genuine team pulls together for the long haul.