What do I mean by stepping up? Let’s look at a scenario and forgive me, it’s a negative scenario but it’s a common one…
Lets say a customer has reported a problem; they have a complaint.
An employee of yours takes the call, makes a note of the problem and tells the customer they’ll get you to call them back to deal with it. Sound familiar?
That employee then comes to see you and explains the problem, you might well have been deep in concentration working on something really important, but this customer complaint has to take priority so you give it your attention.
As you listen to the problem, you feel the onus is on you to come up with the solution and because your employee has told the customer you’ll call them back, the problem has become yours to deal with.
Your employee leaves and resumes their daily routine whilst yet another problem has landed on your shoulders. You’re now fighting yet another metaphorical fire. But you’re the boss, the oracle of knowledge in your business and you have all the answers. Right?
Is that really the case? Could that employee have dealt with it? If only they’d taken the time to think through the solution and dealt with the problem in a way that you’d feel happy about? So why don’t they?
Well, largely the problem is that many people have been ‘trained’ to not think for themselves; many employers are control freaks and/or power hungry.
In both cases they feel that unless they make the decisions things will go wrong. This quells the energy and enthusiasm of people almost the moment they get their first job and the mindset sticks – they’re paid to do as they’re told, not to think! They’ll take the problem to their boss, keep their heads down and do what’s expected of them and little more.
This is sad because the spark of human ingenuity is suppressed, the whole is not greater than the sum of it’s parts and too much relies on you. Let’s change this.
A better way
I’m privileged to work with amazing people who deal with problems that come in quickly, effectively and in many cases, ingeniously. It’s not just about dealing with problems of course, they bring and implement great ideas to prevent problems happening in the first place. They bring and implement great ideas for making the business better. And I get to focus on the important stuff that I need to that also makes my business stronger rather than be continually interrupted and reacting to day to day operational stuff that crops up.
I have a team of people that feel empowered to express themselves in the business and because of this they feel valued and have a deep sense of worth. And rightly so.
I didn’t recruit this team from the ‘Super heroes recruitment centre’ These are ordinary people who do extraordinary stuff and you can develop your team in the same way.
Stepping up in visual context
Let me put stepping up in to visual context. This diagram of ‘steps’ illustrates the stages where people can be at in using their own initiative. Many people reside on the lower or next rung up. Either they’re ‘Go for’s’ – They’ll simply wait to be told what to do; “Go for this”, “go do that”. Or they get on with their day to day stuff but anything outside of that remit, they’ll bring the problem to you. We call this ‘Ask’ because they’re not thinking for themselves.
The next rung up is entitled ‘Recommend’ this is the equivalent of ‘Bring me a solution, not a problem’. This is the first target rung. I set an expectation that I’m not expecting the perfect solution to be presented every time. Just take a few moments to think about what would be the best course of action to remedy the problem or to make a situation better and then bring that to me. I explain this ladder and set expectation that ‘Recommend’ is the minimum level I expect of everyone who works at AVN when I recruit people.
It’s also the maximum level until I believe they’re ready. I explain later.
This is about breaking habits. For many, it’s a habit to come and ask rather than think first. Also fear of bringing a recommendation that’s not right can prohibit people. It’s your job to encourage and remind; every time someone brings a problem to you, ask the question: “What do you recommend?”. If their immediate response is “I don’t know!” then have patience, ask the question, “If you did know, what would it be?”. Reassure them that there’s no such thing as a bad recommendation. Be patient and wait.
Whatever response they give, work with them on it.
First of all, provide positive encouragement, it’s great they’ve put forward a recommendation.
If you feel that the recommendation isn’t quite right, question yourself first, why isn’t it. What would the outcome be of that recommendation, is it simply that the method is different to what you might do or might it have negative connotations? If it’s simply a different method but the outcome gets the right result then as long as it fits with your values and how you want your business to be perceived then let them run with it. If it doesn’t fit with your values then explain why and keep it positive and work with them to develop the recommendation so that it fits.
If you foresee negative connotations then give them the scenario…”I wonder what would happen if…”
Work with your employee to come up with the right recommendation, not by telling them; but by asking thought provoking questions that help them come to a better solution themselves.
This takes patience, there’s no magic wand solution to building a great team overnight but the rewards and benefits of taking the extra time now to develop your team now are worth it.
The more your team bring recommendations forward and you work with them to shape the recommendations to fit with the way you want your business to be perceived the more the recommendations will be presented in that way.
Be the support
Of course, in every situation, don’t take the solution and run with it yourself, your employee has developed the solution so let them run with it. Give them the assurance that you’ll support them and that you trust them to run with it. If things go wrong, support them and encourage them, don’t take it off of them.
Time to trust
The next rung up is ‘Do it and report immediately’. Sooner or later, members of your team will be bringing recommendations that – most of the time – fit. It’s time to now to take that trust to the next level. This is a one to one conversation as each member of your team reaches this stage.
Tell them that their judgement and recommendations are spot on. Let them know that you feel they’re ready to go to the next level now.
Encourage them to trust their own judgement because you do and to deal with situations themselves. Ask them to come and see you afterwards to let you know what happened and what they did about it.
This is important.
You have to allow for mistakes to happen. No one is perfect and what might seem like a good idea can go wrong. If something does go wrong, you must not chastise. Doing so will put that employee right back to the bottom rung. Be there for support but don’t take the problem back.
Encourage the employee to take the responsibility to resolve the situation and support them every step of the way. This will make them stronger.
At this stage in the ladder you may have to remind people who come to you with the recommendation that you trust their judgement to get on and do it.
Provide genuine praise
Always provide the praise, it’s too easy to simply begin to take for granted that members of your team are dealing with these situations and forget to appreciate them. Everyone likes/wants and needs to feel appreciated and a “thank you!”, a “well done!”, a “you’re doing a great job!” expressed genuinely, goes a long way.
Time to reduce your interruptions
At the appropriate time, encourage your team members to move to the next step ‘Do it and report routinely’ and simply report on a weekly or monthly basis in a team meeting. This way, you get uninterrupted time to focus on the stuff you need to focus on that’s improving your business.
Don’t let fear stop you
I’ve shared this concept with many business owners and sometimes they’ve expressed their concern that if they develop their team members too much they’ll probably end up leaving and starting their own business in competition rather than continuing as an employee.
That may of course happen, but in my experience it’s incredibly rare. Most people leave a business because they feel undervalued. Starting a business is not a walk in the park and is a very daunting notion. Creating an environment where people can express their creativity, can make decisions and feel supported and appreciated will improve loyalty and a feeling of ownership and commitment to the success of the business.
Action to take.
Talk to each member of your team about the initiative ladder. Explain to them the impact it has on you every time a problem is brought your way. Explain that you want to help them to develop themselves and how doing so will free up your time in the long run to make the business stronger which will benefit everyone.
Get in to the habit of asking for a recommendation rather than listening to the problem.
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