It’s not always easy to strike a balance between managing your employees closely and letting them take initiative. Depending on your management style, you might feel it’s more in your nature to micromanage your employees’ tasks and ensure everyone is getting the job done according to your standards. Or, if you lean toward the other end of that spectrum, you might enjoy taking your hands off the reins and allowing your workers the slack to largely manage themselves.
In most cases, the “right” approach falls somewhere in the gray area between those two extremes. Only you know how your employees handle certain situations, and only you can judge your comfort level with delegating responsibility. But to help you find the balance that works for you and your team, aim to follow these empowering management techniques from Harvard Business Review.
1. “Give power to those who have demonstrated the capacity to handle the responsibility.”
This is the essence of management in a nutshell.
When an employee handles tasks competently, quickly, and with care, that employee has proven that he has a strong work ethic and cares about doing a good job. Especially if he demonstrates a long-term pattern of doing good work, you can safely trust him to take on additional responsibilities. You may want to steadily increase the areas for which he is responsible, or eventually promote him to a position where he can manage other employees within that area.
This is in contrast to the idea of hiring a manager from the outside of the company to look over your existing employees. When businesses bring in unknown people to act as supervisors instead of trusting current employees with the promotion, it sends the signal that even the hard workers on your team will not be rewarded with your trust. That can undermine your employees’ drive to strive for excellence and instead leaves them wondering, “What is the point of trying harder?”
When you slowly delegate more responsibility, power, and perks to workers who have proven themselves capable, it provides the whole team with the incentive to do good work. It also fosters a feeling of goodwill when your workers know that you trust them and will reward their efforts. This can increase employee retention and keep the best workers on your team for years to come.
2. “Create a favorable environment in which people are encouraged to grow their skills.”
Stagnation is the enemy.
Not only does it mean that your business isn’t growing at the rate it could be, it also spells trouble for your team of employees. When workers get bored and stop striving for improvement, they are likely to seek more fulfilling and rewarding careers elsewhere.
To combat this, do your best to offer a supportive atmosphere where employees are encouraged to keep reaching higher.
You can do this a number of ways:• Providing reimbursement or other incentives for continuing education• Allowing schedule readjustments for employees who need time to attend continuing education classes• Offering tiered salaries for the most qualified and most effective employees to earn more• Giving recognition (verbal congratulations, awards, or whatever fits your style) to employees who have achieved new milestones like bringing in a record number of new memberships, graduating from a class, or earning a new certification
3. “Don’t second-guess others’ decisions and ideas unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
When you shoot down your employees’ ideas, you undermine their confidence. You also make it less likely that your employees will want to speak up and share their ideas in the future. This can cause a collapse in trust and communication that ultimately hurts your relationship with your employees and sabotages their motivation to work hard for your business.
If at all possible, encourage participation and the sharing of ideas from your team. They should know that their thoughts and feelings are valid to you and that you take each suggestion into consideration.
Even if you have zero intention of putting a particular idea into practice, still be careful to make sure your message to your employees is encouraging rather than discouraging.
If your gut reaction is to shoot something down, bite your tongue for a few seconds and reconsider your approach. After a moment of consideration, you might choose to say something like, “I really appreciate the suggestion. I’m afraid that won’t work for X reason, but I like where you’re coming from.”
Not only does that show your employees that you listen to what they have to say, it encourages them to come to you with future suggestions if they think of a good workaround that would solve whichever roadblock was in the way.
4. “Give people discretion and autonomy over their tasks and resources.”
Your employees understand their jobs. They also know the tools, resources, and steps required to accomplish their tasks. It can be frustrating for an employee who knows he needs something in particular to accomplish a task to first have to run it by you for authorization. It makes him feel like he is being micromanaged, it slows down the entire process, and it wastes your time when you have to approve every small step of the process.
It’s a scary step for some managers to let go of their control and allow employees to use their own discretion. And in some cases, it may indeed be appropriate for you to maintain a hands-on approach, for example with brand new employees or employees who don’t have the best track record for responsibility.
Allowing discretion and autonomy could be a good way to begin giving more power to your most valuable employees, as discussed in section one. You can start by relaxing your oversight on tasks that you’re confident your best employee can handle and seeing how that goes. When it goes well and your employee handles the responsibility admirably, you can feel confident in rewarding that employee with more power and responsibility. It’s a positive cycle that helps you, your workers, and your business.