Once in a great while in life we experience an “Aha!” moment. One of those moments when something someone says takes on greater meaning, sinks right into our psyche and changes how we think. One of those life-changing moments happened for me in a business class at Baylor University almost 10 years ago.
Our instructor had invited a guest speaker. I can’t remember her name, nor can I remember her entire presentation, but one portion of what she said caught my attention and changed the way I approach business. I was unexpectedly standing at a crossroads that would change the course of my business. The ideas that she presented would lay the foundation for the future course of my business to go from being stunted by my lack of delegation skills to a working microcosm that could move forward as a viable company.
Since it’s been too many years to quote her exact words, I’ll paraphrase her ideas as follows: One person’s ideas are compounded by another person’s ideas. The ideas of two people together are greater than the sum of the ideas of two people taken individually. If you want to reach into a treasure trove of ideas, ask your employees what they think. Every person doing a particular job has an idea of how they could do it differently. To truly revolutionize your company, tap into those ideas.
I do remember her exact words as she challenged us. “Go to your employees tomorrow morning and ask them what they would do if this were their company.”
The next morning I did just that.
LET’S DO IT
Sitting at a table surrounded by five employees, I said, “If this were your business what would you change?” I’m not sure what I was expecting, but the reaction I received was stunning: mouths flew open, eyes sparkled and widened. Everyone seemed to be talking at once. My reaction was, “Why are we talking about it, let’s do it.”
They raced from the table back to the workshop. Machines were moved, tables and shelves were built, files were established and tools were requested. In short, things changed. Productivity rose dramatically and I learned to sit back and marvel at the ideas of others. You see, the strange thing is that I already know all of my own ideas. There’s nothing novel there. But the ideas of others, now there is something that is new, creative and wonderful to behold, especially when so many benefits are derived from entertaining those ideas.
When I bought-out another company years later, I inherited a whole group of new employees. These employees worked under the prior management and came to me with certain expectations. Those expectations included being accustomed to the previous owners micromanaging every aspect of the business. Empowering these new employees to make decisions and to enjoy the freedom of doing their jobs the best way that they knew how now was job No. 1.
To optimize performance while delegating tasks and empowering employees to be creative in the methods they use to complete those tasks, we need to do the following things:
1. Assign the task/goal.
2. Assign a time frame for completion.
3. Remove impediments to accomplishing the task.
4. Provide tools and supplies.
5. Provide training.
6. Get out of the way.
7. Notice and reward good results.
When you allow employees the freedom to own their jobs and do those jobs in the best way that they know how, you start to build a company that can run without you. A company that runs without you can grow in ways that a tightly controlled company could never grow. I’ve often heard this phrase, “You’ll never find an employee that will do things the way you would.” I must say that I agree with that statement. Fortunately, I have found that, indeed, my employees don’t do their jobs the way that I would do them, they do their jobs better than I could.
Sitting in that class so many years ago, taking the road that would lead to a company that can run without me enabled me to have the time to write and to speak. Little did I know that choice would take me along a path that would allow me to write this column. I’m glad I listened to those words; those words changed my life.
Mary Ann Plumlee is the owner of a retail and wholesale workroom. Starting with only $50 and a home sewing machine in 1985, her business has expanded to include a showroom, 12 employees and two locations. She firmly believes that in this business only the tough survive. Finding the humor in the everyday life of a “curtainlady” is how she not only has survived, but thrived in this industry. Plumlee is often seen traveling around the country teaching classes and seminars. She is the author of The Adventures of Curtain Lady and has launched a workroom related blog: www.workroomintelligence.com.