The top of the foodchain doesn't necessarily make the best decisions for your small business.
Many of the decisions made in your business are going to be wrong, regardless of who makes them or how long they cogitate before they do so. Nobody gets it right all the time and we all learn from our mistakes.
That is because, in many organizations, it is the bosses who make all the important decisions. Other people are afraid of what will happen if, or when, they make a mistake. In a hierarchical organization, it is often risky to be seen to carry the can for something that looks like the wrong choice, and nobody wants to be in the wrong.
Hierarchical companies conform to the idea that the best decision-makers are the most senior people in the business. This is because people see that business leaders may have the most experience and the greatest depth of knowledge. In these traditionally-structured businesses too, they may be the only ones who have visibility of all the information, such as the financial data and statistics about how the company is doing and growing. They also may be the only ones who really understand the vision for where they want it to get to. Therefore, they are the ones making the decisions.
This is what many people expect, it is the way things have tended to happen in the past. Structuring the company like this probably works fine when the company is made up of three people and a dog, all sharing the same office space. It may also work well for a company that is not growing, in a marketplace where there is little prospect of disruption or rapid change. For instance, picture the Ministry of Dog Licenses in a small imaginary country with a static population and a stable government.
Out in the real world, in the era of rapid technological disruption, it doesn’t work that well. In this kind of organization, information has to be collected around what is happening on the ground, and then push it up the hierarchy to the decision-making layer. The data will be reviewed, and a course of action selected that has to be relayed back down to the team who will put it into practice.
Who are the best decision makers?
It’s slow, it’s bureaucratic and it doesn’t give scope for people across the organization to grow their skills and develop. For example, I remember once interviewing an individual who was billed as a rising star. On paper, she was in charge of a large team. But yet, when I drilled into her experience, I found that the responsible part of her role, including having difficult conversations with customers and making hard decisions, were being done for her by her boss, not her. I didn’t hire her. In my view, dynamic and fast-growing businesses in the digital age work best with autonomous employees and self-managing teams.
Highly-skilled employees who are in customer-facing roles are generally best-placed to know the best thing to do in specific circumstances. They usually make the best decisions. Not only that, but they are also the main potential source of fresh ideas and innovations that will drive real value for customers.
Organizations which are agile in the accepted sense of that term work to reduce bureaucracy and red tape and to allow people across the organization to step up, to take responsibility and to make decisions for themselves. That’s engaging for the employees and delivers better value for customers. It motivates them, empowers them to take a chance and gives them responsibility to make choices.
But, an organization that does things this way has to first accept the reality that people will, in fact, make mistakes. Everyone needs to understand that this is inevitable, acceptable and that we learn from them and move on. It is completely counterproductive to have a ‘blame culture’.
Have transparency in your organization, which means sharing information widely across the company and keeping everyone in the loop, no matter what position they hold. This is vital in the growth of any business and provides employees with all of the information they need, essentially arming them with the ability to make decisions.
How to make the best decisions
To make decisions with the best possibility of success, people have to have access to the right data. There must be openness and consistent information sharing. It is also useful to have a decision-making process to think about what may be the next best step in situations that often occur. This will also make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to task delegation and will ultimately increase productivity among an employee base.
Workplace technology utilizing AI can be used to help guide less experienced employees to work at the level of the best. With the appropriate technology and help, they’ll be able to perform at a higher level and integrate with company. It’s important to provide employees with the tools necessary for success in order to build up their skill level and put them in the best possible position to help make these decisions for the organization.
Data is helpful, but it is not always a complete solution, however, because in my experience there is usually data which can be used to back more than one course of action. An important caveat when using data, is to try to spot trends. Over-reacting to point in time snapshots is rarely a good idea. Digest the data you have and apply it to the organization in a way that everyone will be able to benefit from it.
There are always choices to be made in any line of work. As a manager, I feel I have a duty to support a generally forward-looking and decisive culture for my company. So, if someone comes to me with a solution to a problem they have spotted, I would look to support their decision rather than procrastinate. When they are able to share their thoughts on what to do, it is often that they will have more relevant knowledge of the situation than I do. In my experience, if they get a swift go ahead. But they have some unexpressed concerns about whether it really is the wisest course of action, they will flag that upward immediately.
If I do have concerns about the course of action an employee is recommending, I might simply ask why they feel this is the right decision. Perhaps they are not in possession of all the facts, or perhaps they know something that I don’t. Discussing decisions and having a process in place helps to keep everyone on the same page and to arm all employees with the information necessary will eventually lead to better decision making overall.
Communication is important, and so is consultation. High-performing professionals don’t generally want to work for organizations that micromanage them and that don’t support them to do their best work. So in short, the best decision-maker about your role in your company is probably you, no matter what your pay grade! Motivate your employees to make decisions, train them to do so, and make sure there is transparency across all levels in order to make the organization grow successfully.