Articles | Make better delegated decisions






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Make better delegated decisions

Make better delegated decisions








Who doesn't want to make better, faster decisions? Easier said than done, of course.

Empowered employees make good decisions and resolve problems. As business becomes ever more complex and dynamic, managers and leaders have to make more decisions, under time pressure, and often with too little or the wrong kind of data.

These are familiar, everyday decisions, that are typically delegated to the person or team closest to the core question or problem. While these are not the biggest or most complicated decisions organisations make, their frequency means that their cumulative impact can be significant.

Organisations often underestimate both the hidden value of getting delegated decisions right and the difficulty of uncovering this value. Too few decisions are explicitly delegated—meaning that too few employees know what they can and cannot decide. Even when they do know, their managers don’t understand how to support their decision making.

The key to achieving better delegated decisions is to empower employees by developing their managerial capabilities to give them the authority or power to act. It’s easy to tell employees what decisions they can or can’t make, but this alone is not enough. Empowerment requires managers to give their employees both the tools they need to make high-quality decisions and the right level of guidance and involvement from above as they do so.

Providing the right level of guidance at the right times is a critical leadership skill, but one that doesn’t often come naturally to managers.

Most managers start out as either helicopter bosses or micromanagers. Both are typically hands-on and controlling, likely to overrule an employee’s decision if they don’t like it. Employees feel unaccountable and lacking in responsibility, so that they become inefficient, overload senior management’s time and attention, and feel undervalued, unmotivated, disengaged and then leave.

Leaders empower employees by being less involved and cheering from the sidelines. Cheerleader managers step back from decisions, intervening only occasionally to boost morale. Many leaders and employees assume that empowering employees involves moving from the micromanager to the cheerleader. Overloaded and experienced leaders are often inclined to make that transition. Cheerleaders are the managers most likely to delegate decision-making authority to their best people, freeing up more time for themselves. And, if such managers have identified the best people for their roles, shouldn’t they need less support?

The answer is no. The cheerleader approach is a dangerous trap for leaders and employees alike. When leaders engage infrequently, they can seem to undermine or question an employee’s decision-making capabilities when they do step in. The knock-on effect is to leave protégés who make the decisions—often the company’s most talented employees—without the benefit of time for coaching and grooming by senior leaders who could prepare them for further advancement.

Successful empowerment, doesn’t mean leaving employees alone. The manager who empowers people to make delegated decisions well is what is called the coach. Hands-on but not directive, coaches don’t tell people what to do—rather, they provide guidance and guardrails for decisions and ensure accountability, while stepping back and allowing others to make them. This approach may seem like common sense. But there is a wide gap between understanding what to do and being able to do it.

The coaching management style doesn’t come naturally. The coaching style requires a balance between frequency of input and level of involvement. In organisations where the rewards for success pale in comparison with the punishments for failure, empowerment can be genuinely risky for employees and managers alike.

High-quality coaching is time consuming. Getting employees ready to take on decision-making responsibilities requires a considerable up-front investment of your time. This requirement can temporarily slow down decision making and increase the workloads of managers who want to coach, tempting them to step back in and speed things up—only to find themselves reverting to co-dependent relationships.

Organisations whose leaders successfully empower others through coaching are nearly four times more likely to make good decisions than those whose leaders don’t and to outperform industry peers financially. Empowered employees are also more engaged, work harder, and become more loyal to the company. Their delegated decisions typically deliver faster, better, and more efficiently executed outcomes.

How to support delegation and employee empowerment

  1. Ensure that you have a well-defined, widely understood strategy. If everyone knows what the organization is trying to achieve, teams can pull in the same direction without requiring the leader’s constant supervision.
  2. Clearly define roles and responsibilities. The foundation of all empowerment efforts is for everyone to know exactly who is responsible for making which decisions, who has some other form of input—and, equally important, who doesn’t.
  3. Invest in capability building (and coaching) up front. Organisations must deliberately develop decision-making skills, such as solving problems, assessing performance, and analysing risk. Managers need to spend meaningful time coaching and upskilling employees and giving them opportunities. To help managers do so, the organisation must also invest in efforts to build their leadership and coaching skills.

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