Managing Teams

Teach Your Team to Make Fearless Decisions

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Allowing your employees the power to make decisions not only makes them feel empowered, but it also just makes sense. By delegating tasks to staff members -- and not micromanaging -- you can focus on the company's long-term strategies, maintaining the vision and scaling the business. I learned this important tactic at my first day on the job out of college. Stationed as project engineer, the head of my division came to see me.

He told me that I was going to make 10 decisions a day, and if I got seven right, I was hitting a home run. He then added, “Don’t be afraid to make a decision.”

As a startup executive at Jimdo, I also encourage people to make their 10 decisions a day, even knowing that some of them will be wrong. Here’s how I approach it:

Give them ownership.

I am always telling my team to “own it.” In a small-team environment, everyone is wearing multiple hats and most projects are collaborative efforts. However, as an executive, I can’t think about everything. I solve this dilemma by asking individuals to own what they do, meaning that they have to be the ones to make the decisions.

Related: The 5 Pitfalls of Decision-Making, and How to Avoid Them

They don’t have to do it all themselves. But they have to be responsible with complete ownership. My managers and staff all understand that once they fully own it, I will back their decisions – even the ones they get wrong.

Get on the same page about “why.”

I try to stay out of people's tactics and instead concentrate my efforts on their strategy. I make sure they understand their goals, how those aligns with company goals and why each are important to execute the founder’s vision.

Once we are on the same page, I feel confident that they will make good decisions, and they feel like they have enough information to make those decisions. And it means that I don’t risk micro-managing.

Focus on feedback.

Of course there is the obvious question of how to deal with decisions that I would have handled differently. After all, with the seven out of 10 rule, I’m expecting 30 percent of those decisions to be wrong.

Related: Drive a Feedback Loop: Employees Will Benefit, So Will Your Company

In a word, I make sure that people feel safe. You will not advance your cause unless you provide an environment where criticism is constructive, and it doesn’t feel like an attack.

As such, I try to frame constructive criticism as positive feedback. I point out the good in what my team member did first. If I have a critique, I try to completely remove any trace of blame or shame from my message. If I want them to keep making decisions, I can’t tear them down when they do.

Instead, I explain what I saw as “less-than-optimal” in the decision they made, which is my positive-attitude way of observing what was wrong. Then I add how I would have handled the situation differently. Most importantly, I always add why I would have handled it this other way. I explain how this other approach fits in with the company’s culture, goals and vision.

During these feedback sessions, I almost inevitably remind my team members that under my management structure, they are going to make 10 decisions a day. If they get seven right, they are hitting a home run. Assuming I’m speaking with them about just one thing, it’s actually a great way to point out that they're a superstar: They only made one wrong decision.

The point of all of this, of course, is to encourage decision making -- both for yourself and your team. It’s positive. It makes people feel good about themselves. It empowers them. It turns them into owners who understand what they’re doing and why. It aligns everyone with the company’s vision and goals, and it drives efficiency. Quite simply, it’s good for business. 

Related: How to Use Your Gut to Make Better Decisions