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Or commonly known as `How to let go of the reins’…

Part 1

Are you frustrated by any of the following behaviours of some of your employees?


  • Want you to solve almost every problem that arises
  • Tend to seek your permission unnecessarily
  • Need help with tasks that they should know and should be within the capabilities of their role

It can be the same behaviour repeating itself with different staff… it feels like you are not getting any of your own work done… going home at end of the day with a headache… feeling that you must be the only person that knows what they are doing… having to constantly micro-manage staff…

This may seem an exaggerated description of your situation but it represents the frustrations many business owners and managers feel at times.

It is understandable that you want to monitor everything happening in the business.  Your business is your baby; it is your lifeblood and provides your income.

However, there are some aspects where you can lighten the load.  One area that can wear out a business owner/manager or manager quickly is staff `dependency behaviour’.  Somehow a balance has to be found between maintaining control and allowing employees the freedom to make decisions.

There are four different tactics that can resolve those tension headaches.  Two can be implemented immediately, one can have been done before you hired any employee and the fourth is a short to medium term strategy.  All take a little work on your part but the result can leave you with more time and mental energy.

1 It all goes back to when you hire people

Sometimes we have a habit of hiring people that do not have self-confidence and this is not necessarily a conscious ploy on our part.  Perhaps we feel we have a better chance of retaining control of our business operations if our employees are not over confident.  Perhaps we feel that we can ensure that our employees will not undertake an action that will result in negative repercussions.

The most successful business people like Donald Trump, Mark Bourdis and Warren Buffet all have something in common.  They hire people that can do the specific job that they are hired to do because there are employees that can fill that function better than the owner can do it himself or herself.

It is possible to surround yourself with people that are smarter than you but with  business and system controls in place that ensure they have boundaries that they can not cross.

So the question is, what type of people are we hiring?  Perhaps we need to look beyond a person’s skill set and look at the personal set.   The level of confidence the person has.  We can use our own sense of judgement and we can also use referees or we can even use psychometric tests.  We can use any means of assessing a potential employee’s capabilities above and beyond their skills abilities, we just want employees with strong decision making capabilities from the outset of their time within the business.

If the situation feels like it is too far gone, then the next concept may help to quickly start shaping behaviours in the right direction.

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2 Getting employees to think for themselves

The last thing needed is to have some of your staff dependent on you and overloading you with additional work.  If they are dependent on you for decision making, right down to what colour paper clips to buy, it may eventually result in your own burnout.

So how can we start to promote incentive thinking?

When a staff member approaches you regarding a circumstance that they perceive to be a problem, the first question is:  Is there actually a problem?

With that question answered, then the following questions are directed to the employee:

  • What did you do about it, the last time this situation occurred?
  • What did someone else here do (or you remember from a past job) when this situation occurred?
  • What would you do/what do you suggest be done and how should it be done

At the conclusion of the discussion, specify to the staff member to “Let me know how it went”.

These questions force staff to search for possible solutions and then to create a  solution now.  This conversation suddenly makes them responsible and accountable for his or her own decision making skills rather than you.  This person has to start thinking rather than relying on you for a solution – you guide them to a point where they are given permission to find a solution..

The request to provide you with a report of the result has a dual purpose.  You can monitor the situation and any further adjustments that may need to be made.  The second reason is that your staff member is now learning to report to you, rather than bring you an open ended problem to be solved.

If needed, tell your staff that “when you bring me a problem, bring me a solution as well”.  Notice that it is `a solution’.  To ask for `the solution’ can set people up to feel they have failed if every solution they offer turns out to be incorrect or unsuitable.

The usual “that idea has merit but what will be the effect of  etc… now how about this idea as well…” always acknowledges the effort and still encourages future incentive to think.  You already know how to deal with this part and all the diplomacy that goes with it.

What we also know from this exercise is that the staff member is given the opportunity to show incentive.  This is perhaps a chance for that individual to show or develop leadership qualities.  Many studies claim that it is not necessarily the wages that bring the most satisfaction to employees but the opportunity to develop/expand their skills, recognition and acknowledgement.

This situation provides the opportunity to show acknowledgement of your belief in their abilities.

If the result of the staff member’s action to solve `the problem’ produces a negative result, be sensitive about it in the debriefing.  Work through what happened or didn’t happen and help them to learn from the occasion, ensuring that they retain their confidence for the next time.

Another option
This will make many a business owner or manager start to sweat just from the thought of it – but be brave.  Sit each of your staff in your chair for one day or a even half day and mentor them through everything that you have to deal with on a daily basis.  Let them experience the personally draining effect and how unproductive it is to have people running to you all the time for answers.

In Part 2 we will look at business systems contributing to this ‘dependency behaviour’ and how the role of education may set you free…

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