Do you encourage your staff members to take ownership of their part in your business?

Could you, indeed, do you leave your business for two weeks, switching off entirely and trust that everything will be executed (not necessarily the same way you may have proceeded,) but with the same or in my case often better outcomes? My previous team used to gather round in the early days and have a conversation imagining what might I elect to do if something arose? I never had a hand back other than critical issues which they had simply kept moving and in 17 years I cannot remember any time in the running of the company that my holiday was interrupted because of an emergency. Indeed I take great pride in the fact that I would send an email reminding my team that I valued them, trusted them and left them to make the right decisions. I feel this way today.

I do understand when you’re running a small business it can be hard to let go and trust your team. If you started off as just one person doing everything, even if you’ve hired people to take over different parts of the business, it can be tempting to still shadow them, to look over their shoulder and offer advice and support – whether they ask for it or not! The more experience I gain the more I realise the part we play to trust others, to set standards and to allow others to meet expectations, these are the ways great companies can rally accelerate and grow. It gets easier as a proven strategy settles into place and I think there are stages at which a company can be easier to break from, scale and market trends helps. No business has a smooth ride to growth and right now uncertainty rules the UK business scene. More now than ever a company cannot grow if the only decision maker is the founder, leader.

In businesses where everyone just mucks in to help each other out. If there is no clear delineation between roles, things can sometimes get missed or fall through the cracks – and then as the business owner we feel like we need to micromanage every task to ensure things are not overlooked. It starts with the right employment, beginning with the best possible role description, then the right questions to test the skills and of course clear key performance indicators to enable clarity around the expectations.

I have been in the predicament where I originally grew a company somewhat cluelessly without the role and the expectations outlined. I was lucky to quickly grasp the fact that I knew what I was good at and should stick to doing, I knew I should never take my eye off the finances, but I also knew I could not be good at everything and still allow the company to grow.

Do not let yourself feel that you can’t take a day off, let alone a week or two. It is not good for anyone to get cross, upset, disappointed with our team members: we lead the atmosphere and the leadership sets the culture by example. You cannot expect individuals without guidance to take ownership and sort it out for themselves? Are you asking yourself why am I getting emails and phone calls about the small, insignificant stuff when I’m trying to make the bigger, more important decisions? We resent being pulled into these discussions, but ultimately in many cases it is our own fault for setting up this situation in the first place.

You see, when you micromanage your staff and second-guess their decisions, double check with them that they’ve not forgotten this or that, eventually they lose confidence in their ability to do the job to our standard. They feel that they need to check in with us before every decision just in case we want them to change something. Constantly shadowing our staff and not allowing them to just get on with it might feel like a necessary evil in order to give us peace of mind but it’s actually incredibly disempowering for your team members.

Before long you end up with a situation where you are not happy with feeling that you have to be involved in every minor decision, and your staff are not happy with always having to double check everything with you.

This is the point where you need to give yourself a bit of a talking to. Remind yourself that you hired these people for a reason. It is entirely impossible to scale a business if you are still intimately involved with every tiny details of the day-to-day running of the company. Either you trust your staff to just get on with it (in which case, take a step back and let them do their jobs) or you don’t (in which case, get rid of them and hire people you can trust).

It is absolutely key in business – especially in small business – that staff members take ownership for their role and assume complete responsibility for what they do. Once this happens, you will be surprised by how smoothly your business can run. Perhaps you can book that holiday after all!

Here are some key tips for encouraging your team members to take ownership:

  • Work on their confidence. You’ll often find that people know exactly what to do, but for whatever reason they aren’t confident to go ahead and do it without first checking with someone in authority. This could be because you’ve always made them check with you in the past, or it could just be a general lack of confidence. Either way, finding ways to improve everyone’s confidence can only be a positive.
  • Communicate well. Have regular meetings where you ensure every member of the team is called upon to contribute.
  • Ask them for their opinions and ideas. This will help them to feel that they are part of the bigger picture, and encourage them to take an active role in achieving company-wide goals. I’ve said many times before that you get the best out of people when they are involved in the decision making and goal setting process.
  • Share your vision for the future. Aim to make your team feel that you are all in this together, so that rather than just being someone hired to fulfil orders, each individual feels like they are coming along with you for the ride.
  • Explain why you are doing things. This works on every single level – so make sure they know why your company exists, but also why you want them to stick a label on a box a certain way or sign off an email with a particular phrase. People are more inclined to follow rules if they know why they are there and are inspired to take part in the culture.
  • Delegate authority and autonomy rather than just work. This means that if there is a big project to work on, instead of managing it yourself and asking key people to do individual tasks, hand the whole thing to your team. Have them make their own decisions, manage their own sections and achieve their own results.
  • Trust them. Easier said than done, I know. But ultimately, businesses are built on trust. You need to trust the people in your team to be able to do the job you hired them for. This is one of those times where you might need to “act as if” before you actually do trust them – but if you don’t take the step and loosen your grip, things will never improve.
  • Encourage a problem solving attitude. When someone brings you a problem, don’t automatically provide a solution. Try to avoid saying “leave it with me.” Instead, ask them what solution they can come up with. How do they think this situation can be resolved? Encourage them to come to you not only with a problem but with a suggestion for resolving it. Fairly soon they will learn to just resolve problems without involving you.

All businesses rely on their staff in order to run well. Small businesses are especially reliant on their team members, and for us it is more important than ever that our employees see working with us as more than just a transactional “do the work; get paid” job. We need people who will take ownership, and we also need to allow them to do this.

Written by Vicky Charles

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