Don't Assume Employees Can't Handle Tough Decisions Too often, managers become paternalistic toward employees, falling into the wrongheaded belief that they know what's best for them.

By Bob Priest-Heck

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Managers often make tough decisions that affect the careers of their direct reports. It just goes with the territory. Some of those choices involve confidential, financial and legal considerations that just can't be shared with an employee.

But all too often, with the best of intentions, we default to our assumptions of "what's best" instead of consulting with the individual in question. It's scary how often this happens and how many of us are guilty without realizing it.

Case in point: You assume that because a woman has expressed a desire to lead her current department one day, she may not be open to a transfer to a different team. In fact, she might not be, but if she's earned your consideration, hasn't she earned the right to weigh in on her own career? What about the ace salesperson whose quickest avenue for advancement means forfeiting a commission-based salary? Shouldn't he have the chance to calculate the long-term pros and cons himself?

Likewise, I've heard managers assume that because an employee's spouse has a thriving career, they'd be reluctant to take on a job that requires a move. Again: Why is it so hard to ask? Maybe they'd like to move closer to relatives. Maybe they're ready for a change. Or they can arrange to work remotely. The point is, you don't know any of that because you didn't ask.

The next time you're tempted to go with your own hunch, consider these four principles.

Have the talk for its own sake.

Just having the conversation may be beneficial. High performers often look for opportunities elsewhere; a signal from you could give them a reason to stay, even if the job you are offering isn't the right one.

People today are conditioned to give input on everything from the courtesy of their Lyft driver to the precise temperature at which they want to sip their coffee. And yet the paternalistic management style that assumes I know best can be blamed for the defections of great talent.

Related: 9 Telltale Signs That It's Time To Quit Your Job

A recent Gallup poll shows that a majority of employees don't see a compelling reason to stay with their company. Specifically, 91 percent say that the last time they changed the scope of their job, they had to leave their company to do so.

You never really know another's motives.

You can't possibly know what motivates other people, or what their priorities might be. In fact, you probably haven't considered all the possible combinations of motivators.

The same Gallup research suggests that one of the biggest mistakes we make is to assume that our employees will follow the money and bigger title. In fact, many workers, especially millennials, put an emphasis on finding work that has meaning and purpose -- work they are especially good at or that fits their life in some satisfying way.

Related: 4 Truths You Need to Know About Millennial Job Hopping

A recent Deloitte study underscores the importance of the larger employee experience. It is a combination of meaningful work, supportive management, a positive work environment, growth opportunities and trust in leadership.

Consider an employee may offer something you never thought of.

Employees are in a unique position to make smart decisions and offer options or solutions that you didn't see. They can only contribute when they're consulted.

You've obviously given your employee a position of responsibility because they have the right skills. And over time they've probably learned more about the nuances of their account, customers and department than you have. So why not tap into that expertise and collaborate with your employee to find alternative ideas and perhaps a creative solution? It may work, or not, but your employee knows they're valued. And that's the job of a good manager.

Get out of your own managerial bubble.

We should already be having these ongoing discussions with our direct reports anyway.

In the age of "radical candor," as championed in the best-selling Kim Scott book of that name, the modern manager needs to care personally about direct reports -- enough so that we directly challenge them to achieve greatness.

Since this is impossible to accomplish without having frequent and candid discussions about people's level of current performance and their longer-term career goals, we have reason to ask people to weigh in on their career path. Perhaps most importantly, it establishes a basis for mutual trust.

Related: The Secrets -- 4 of Them -- to Gaining Employees' Trust

As managers, we must make daily decisions about how to best deploy, motivate and reward employees. That doesn't make it our right to presume we know best when it comes to personal decisions in their lives. You may be able to empathize with an employee, but you are not a mind reader. Engage the employee in the discussion about a future opportunity and see if something can be worked out. Don't take it off the table until they say, "No, thank you."

Relationships are built on trust, and it begins with us. If we don't trust people enough to ask them to consider decisions that affect their lives, how can we expect them to trust us? Rational people make rational decisions. Don't presume; ask.

Bob Priest-Heck

CEO, Freeman

Bob Priest-Heck is CEO of Freeman, a global brand experience and venue-based event production company. He oversees 7,000 team members in 90 locations, all helping companies build powerful relationships through immersive experiences, interactive technologies and engaging ideas.

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