February 18th, 2011
posted by Brian Peddle
The other day I tweeted, “Empower your employees to make decisions. Commit as a leader and back them up. Accept there will be mistakes but coach them and back away.” I wanted to expand on those 140 characters and explain what I meant and one of many ways it can be accomplished.
Every day your employees are faced with decisions to make. Their ability to respond quickly and confidently will make them more effective and confident. If they are given the freedom to take independent action based on the company’s vision, this is a win-win for everyone involved. The employee feels good about the trust placed in them, management can back away from being involved in every single decision and focus on bigger picture tasks and issues are resolved faster.
Autocratic and micro-managers kill self-confidence and destroy the ability and desire for employees to take initiative. If you don’t value your employee’s decisions and you constantly over rule and undermine them, you will encourage them to go seek new opportunities.
By taking a page from the military, “Commander’s Intent”, you can create an autonomous environment and leave the decision making to the troops on the ground. Those are the people who have day to day and intimate knowledge of what is going on and are in the best position to make the right call.
From the U.S. Army Field Manual 100-5:
The Commander’s Intent describes the desired end state. It is a concise expression of the purpose of the operation and must be understood two echelons below the issuing commander. . . It is the single unifying focus for all subordinate elements. It is not a summary of the concept of the operation. Its purpose is to focus subordinates on the desired end state. Its utility is to focus subordinates on what has to be accomplished in order to achieve success, even when the plan and concept of operations no longer apply, and to discipline their efforts toward that end.
What does this mean? The Army knows that you can have all the simulations and battle plans but when it comes time to take the hill things aren’t going to go as planned. They also know that the General 10,000 miles away from the situation can’t possibly know everything in relation to the mission. The Army empowers the troops on the line to make choices based on the Commander’s Intent. In this case it is to take hill top 2145 in 3 days and maintain that position until further notice.
Your Commander’s Intent should give an overall picture of what the company needs to accomplish in order to be successful. Avoid lengthy or vague statements and be clear and concise.
By completing these two sentences you can arrive at your Commander’s Intent.
- If we do nothing else during tomorrow’s mission, we must _____________.
- The single most important thing that we must do tomorrow is __________.
I am responsible for and manage the development efforts at my company. An example of intent for my team could be
- If we do nothing else during tomorrow’s development we must improve search speed.
- The single most important thing we must do tomorrow is improve the search speed.
Team members are now empowered to align their efforts that day by asking themselves, “Is what I am doing today improving the speed of searching?
In my experience using this method to empower employees requires commitment from managers. Some days you just have to toss the “most important thing” out the window to handle the unexpected; if the servers crash I think it is safe to say search speed isn’t so important today but having search work at all is most important, so all hands on deck.
For any organization to be successful it needs to be a true team effort. You MUST trust your employee’s. You MUST accept mistakes will be made and they truly will learn from them. You MUST get out of their way and let them do their job.
Finally as a manager you MUST get over yourself — you are not as important and integral as you think you are. Go take a month off, I bet the company will be doing just fine without you.
One final note, I have seen people mistake Commander’s Intent as, “I am the boss and this is my order.” If you think that is what it means, it is possible you have some deeper control issues and maybe you didn’t get enough hugs as a kid. I promise it will be okay.
What are you doing to empower your team?