Scott, a leader in a large construction company, recently expressed his frustration that too many people in his chain of command didn’t think things through. He said he’d been tempted to point out, “You don’t get paid from the neck down!”
I asked Scott if he was sure about that. Too often, leaders think they pay employees for decisions when they’ve really been paying them for the execution of decisions–not the decisions themselves.
Experience tells us that people typically repeat behaviors for which they are rewarded, so how does a boss encourage more and better decision-making? It all starts with delegating decision-making to the lowest level in the organization along with the authority to implement the decision. This advice won’t work unless you have strong decision-makers working for you, however. To determine whether you do, ask these questions:
- Does this person understand how to separate strategy from tactics, the “what” from the “how”?
- Does this person allow “analysis paralysis” to cause opportunity to slip away?
- How does this person respond to setbacks and disappointments?
- How does chaos affect this person?
- Can this person see patterns, make logical connections, resolve contradictions, and anticipate consequences?
- What success has this person had with multi-tasking?
- Can this person think on his / her feet?
- Does this person jump to wrong conclusions?
- Is this person able to zero in on the critical few and put aside the trivial many when allocating time and resources?
- Does this person get to the core of complicated issues and immediately begin to formulate possible solutions?
- Can this person paint credible pictures of possibilities and likelihoods?Can this person solve complicated, unfamiliar problems?
- How do unexpected and unpleasant changes affect this person’s performance?
- When in a position of leadership, does this person serve as a source of advice and wisdom?
Scott knows that when he hears “knock knock” on his door jamb that he is also about to hear the inevitable question, “Do you have a minute?” Scott realizes that this minute usually turns into a ten-minute conversation, during which the direct report hopes to use Scott’s brain to solve a problem. More importantly, however, Scott has learned how to quash this sort of intellectual laziness.
Now, when one of Scott’s direct reports brings him a problem, he immediately asks, “What solution do you think will work?” Good things happen when bosses ask this question.
First, Scott might hear a sterling solution and avoid wasting ten minutes on something he didn’t need to get involved in. Second, when people know they will have to figure things out for themselves, they put more effort into finding a solution. Of course, it’s far easier to just use the boss’s idea, because if things go wrong, who would blame the direct report for following orders?
Most importantly, bosses like Scott can get a glimpse into the direct report’s thought processes to determine whether this person can take on more decision-making responsibilities. Also, people who devise solutions to their own problems usually feel more committed to turning the solution into a success.
In short, everyone wins, and no one loses when employees truly earn their paychecks from the neck up.