Steve Jobs was notorious for his autocratic leadership style. Instead of empowering his employees to make their own decisions, he would set the strategy, goals and method—and expect them to follow suit. While Apple was incredibly successful under his leadership, some of the downsides of this style are apparent since his passing in 2011 .
The most recent example involves the removal of movies from people's iTunes accounts. Jobs believed that content (like movies) could be treated like software—instead of buying it, you license it. Now, some media providers are pulling their movies from iTunes, making them unavailable to people who purchased them. If someone had been empowered while Jobs was in leadership to say, "Content isn't like software. When people buy a movie, they want to keep it forever," Apple's customers might be a little happier.
As a company leader, it can be tempting to make all the decisions yourself, but if you want to set your organization up for success (even after you leave) then you need employees who are able to make good decisions on their own—and who feel empowered to do so.
Step 1: Help Employees Predict the Results
Lots of things that sound good on paper fall apart when put into practice. It's important for your employees to stop and think about what will happen in the real world before they make a business decision. Will people act the way they expect? Will the decision actually solve a problem?
Let's say you have a manager who feels that punctuality is important in her department. She decides that if anyone is late, they will get written up. How can you, as a leader, help her think through the consequences of this decision? Ask her a few follow-up questions to get her thinking about the outcome of her decision: What happens if someone is 5 minutes late instead of 20? What happens if someone is late because of a delayed train versus someone who is late three times a week? Thinking through the different scenarios is key to helping employees make measured choices.
In the above scenario, for example, asking follow up questions allows the manager to see that having identical punishments for different situations isn't a great idea. With a blanket late policy, if an employee is stuck in traffic and is going to be late anyway, they might be encouraged to stop off at Starbucks to get their favorite drink. Is that behavior a manager wants to encourage? No. Does a manager really want to write up a conscientious employee whose train was late because of an accident? No. If you help the manager think through these possibilities, she'll predict the results and come up with a better decision.
Step 2: Share the Whys
Another aspect of good decision making is ensuring everyone knows why decisions are being made in the first place.
Let's say you wanted your customer service employees to handle higher level complaints—instead of calling a manager each time. Instead of saying, "deal with it yourself," you might give them guidelines on how to handle different situations that might come up. Then you can tell them, "we want to give our customers the best service possible, and so from now on, I'd like you to try to handle complaints you'd normally send straight to me. I follow and I trust your judgment and will back you up."
The first statement might make people feel like you are pushing your job onto them. But, the second statement lets them know that they have all of the information they need and you trust them to make good decisions.
Step 3: Provide Feedback (and More Feedback)
When you let employees make their own decisions, some will be better than others. Your job, as a leader, is to provide feedback on why something went well or why it went poorly. Of course, opinions can differ, so you need to make clear what works for your business. For example, if a customer comes in complaining about service she received and your employee offers a 10 percent discount. Was that a good decision or a bad decision?
The answer isn't straightforward across all businesses which is why it's important to let employees know why it worked or it didn't. For example, "This was a great decision because it will help retain a valued long term customer" or "This was a bad decision because we ended up losing money on this transaction."
By helping employees to think things through, explaining why, and providing feedback, you can build an environment where employees are empowered to make responsible decisions and enable them to seamlessly transition into leadership positions when the company needs them to step up.
Photo: Creative Commons
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A New Poseidon Adventure: Flipping Succession Planning Upside Down
Organizations make significant investments in efforts to hire the right candidates – the people who have the right experience and cultural fit. By carefully managing the performance and potential of these people over time, the organization can grow its leadership pipeline, keep a steady inventory of needed skills and competencies and remain nimble in the face of change (which we have plenty of all around us these day) – all of which can have serious impact on the bottom line. However, much of this pie-in-the-sky stuff relies on being able to locate and cultivate high-potential and high-performing talent across the board. Without an integrated succession management solution, recognizing and developing talent can be an ever-elusive process. The questions we are seeing asked today include: does the traditional top-down approach to succession management still make enough of a difference? Does managing succession for a slim strata of senior executives take full advantage of the kinds of talent data we now have at our fingertips? It doesn’t have to be so. Succession management can be an interactive process between senior leadership, managers and employees at all levels of the organization. And, if we trust them, we can actually let employees become active participants in their own career development. (Shudder.) Career Management (Succession Planning Flipped Upside Down) This "bottom-up" approach is gaining momentum because who better to tell us about employee career path preferences than employees themselves. Organizations actually have talent management and other HR systems in place that allow for collecting and analyzing a whole slew of data around: Career history Career preferences Mobility preferences Professional and special skills Education achieved Competency ratings Performance scores Goal achievement Training and certifications Etc. In short, pretty much everything we’d want to know to make well-informed succession planning and talent pooling decisions. For some, the leap is simply putting some power into the employee’s hands. The talent management system of 2011 is capable of displaying a clear internal career path for employees and then, on the basis of all that data bulleted out above, showing a "Readiness Gap" – what do you need to do to make the step to the next level? And if your talent management environment comes armed with a real Learning Management System, you can take it to the next level with a dynamically generated development plan that gets the employee on the right path to actually closing those gaps. Faster development, faster mobility. Organizations that seriously favor internal mobility don’t just make employees stick on pre-defined career paths – they can search for ANY job in the company and check their Readiness levels. I might be in accounting today, but what I really want to do is move to marketing. Giving employees the chance to explore various career avenues within the organization helps assure that "water finds its level" – that is, that the right people with the right skills and the right levels of motivation and engagement find the right job roles internally. Employee participation is key, but make no mistake – managers play an important role in this interactive process. They must be prepared to provide career coaching, identify development opportunities and recommend employees for job openings. The candid discussions require that employees have open access to information so they can best understand the criteria necessary to move to the next level. A Two-Way Street Employee-driven career management is just one tool. The more traditional top-down approach to succession management remains indispensable. But organizations that value talent mobility and the ability to be able to shift and mobilize talent resources quickly will find that attention to career pathing can be vital. For employees, of course, the impacts are immediate and include boosted levels of engagement, higher retention, increased productivity and more.
The Hidden Costs of Ignoring Your Talent Management Strategy
Building and maintaining a successful company hinges on having the right people to execute projects and drive results. People, we hear time and again, are your company's most valuable asset. But their success — and HR's ability to recruit, engage and retain them — depends on HR pros who are strategic decision-makers, armed with the proper tools to let them excel at their jobs. Modern HR professionals manage much more than payroll and benefits. But their technology tools, in many cases, haven't evolved past basic productivity software like email or Microsoft Word. HR simply can't be strategic with old-school tools that reduce people to statistics and give little insight into what the numbers mean. Emails and spreadsheets were not designed to deliver meaningful insights into people's performance, suggest when employees should be promoted or highlight skills gaps in a company. For that, HR needs a broader, more strategic set of talent management tools, which lets professionals manage every aspect of the workforce, from training and performance reviews to collaboration and succession planning. Yet, research shows that less than 25% of companies use a unified, holistic approach to their talent management. The Real Costs of "Doing Nothing" As a Talent Management Strategy The critical relationship between business strategy and HR strategy too often gets overlooked by senior leadership. While it may seem like the company is saving money by managing recruiting, training, performance and succession via manual and paper-based processes, in reality it’s costing your business more than you know. For example: Without a talent management strategy, a company with 2,000 employees is losing almost $2 million every year in preventable turnover alone. Businesses that don’t invest in learning suffer from decreased employee performance and engagement to such a degree that they can expect to realize less than half the median revenue per employee. That’s a direct impact on the business. In employee performance management, organizations without a focused strategy waste up to 34 days each year managing underperformers and realize lower net income. To learn more about the business impact of talent management and how to start building out your strategy, check out the eBook Why Your Nonexistent Talent Management Strategy is Costing You Money (And How to Fix It) and register for the March 19th webinar, Building the Business Case for Talent Management.
The Return of the Moderate Merit Budget – Wreaking Havoc on Pay for Performance
With the economy now on steadier ground, most organizations have returned to administering a merit budget to the pre-recession levels of 3 to 3.5%. In the years immediately following the economic downturn, many merit budgets were eliminated entirely or were reduced significantly and reserved for a select segment of the employee population. Pay for performance has become a necessity for many organizations that are expected to accomplish more with fewer resources. I often get asked: "How can I truly award my top performers with such a limited budget? Should I do so at the expense of my ’Meets Expectations’ performers? What if I need to retain my ’Meets Expectations’ performers and giving them 0% to 2% increase puts me at great risk for turnover? But if I don’t recognize my top performers, don’t I risk losing them...?" These are difficult questions to answer, however you can determine the best solution for your organization by considering the following: Are your employees paid at market pay levels? Is your organization’s performance management process mature? Does your organization have other compensation programs in place to reward top performers (e.g. variable pay)? Market Pay If turnover is a concern, and your organization needs to maintain ’bench strength’ in order to achieve its strategic objectives, your biggest priority should be to ensure that you are paying your employees at market pay levels. Why? Historically, as the labor market strengthens, organizations become vulnerable in terms of losing people. Hiring and onboarding replacement talent is not only costly to the organization, but can also cause dissension among existing employees since new hires may be getting paid more. Be sure to stay abreast of market pay levels and trends, and use the merit budget to correct disparities. Performance Management Process Organizations vary significantly in terms of the maturity of their performance management process. Closely examine your organization’s process and look for ways to improve it. If there is a perception that one management team is an ’easier grader’ than the others, the process is inherently flawed and any pay for performance program will not be viewed as credible and fair by employees. A good place to start is to get a calibration process in place and communicate broad guidelines on expected distribution ratings. Variable Pay Programs Variable pay programs (e.g. bonuses) have become increasingly more popular across all industries and career levels. These programs provide the opportunity for employees to share in the organization’s success while not adding to fixed payroll costs. Some plans have an individual performance component which can be a very effective means to recognize top performers. However, in order for this type of program to be successful, individual goals and targets must be well documented and communicated. Again, this is largely based on the maturity of the organization’s performance management process which takes time to evolve. What are the best steps to avoid wreaking havoc on your pay for performance process? First ensure your pay levels are keeping pace with the market Continue to evolve your performance programs with calibration among managers and a rigorous goal setting process Promote variable pay plans to reward high performers without adding to fixed pay roll costs It’s not always an easy journey but, in the end, it’s best to use a measured approach that is based on business needs and a realistic assessment of your current programs and processes.