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Organizations Thrive When Leaders Trust Their Employees

March 2, 2018

You can tell me what to do or how to do it, but not both. That’s a phrase I live by. It guides how I delegate and how I encourage others to delegate. Micromanagers perplex me. First, absolutely no one enjoys working for a micromanager. Second, how is being a micromanager rewarding or productive?

If I give someone an assignment and then proceed to demand frequent status updates or dictate every detail along the way, I might as well have done the dang thing myself. The reasons we delegate in the first place are (a) to free ourselves to work on other tasks and (b) to empower others to take on meaningful work commensurate with their abilities or to stretch them to acquire new capabilities. Both benefit the organization. Micromanagement does not.

I just read a Gallup study that found 50% of employees who leave their jobs cite their managers as the top reason. Of note, many cited their managers didn’t provide long-term goals, coaching, or direction. It is my opinion that this is one of the main reasons leaders micromanage. Their ineffectiveness at getting people to envision a shared, desired outcome compels them to fuss and redirect along the way.

The findings of this study made me even more proud of the relationships PSI’s leaders have with their employees. PSI annually gets high marks on efficiency in the Best/Top Places to Work Surveys. To paraphrase a popular saying, “We get ‘stuff’ done!”

"Stuff" wouldn’t get done as efficiently as it does without effective delegation. And delegation starts with trust. Seeing the work being done in each department, it’s clear our leaders trust their teams to do their part. Leaders provide our people with autonomy to use their skills and expertise to help make us successful. At the same time, I know our employees trust their managers to have their best interests in mind when work is being assigned and to be there for coaching and support as they want it.

Hire Great People

How did we get a culture like this? Well, it’s been this way from the start. Its foundation is rooted in our hiring process. We practice what we preach and have every prospective employee complete a pre-hire assessment and go through a structured interview process to make sure that we invite the best people to join our team. Expertise is important, but it’s not as important as capability, desire, and cultural fit.

A key to this process is our leaders understanding their employees’ strengths and areas for development. This individualized consideration allows leaders to properly delegate assignments, provide timely guidance and feedback, and give employees the freedom they desire to operate and thrive.

New employees benefit because they are being mentored and managed in a way that is unique to them. They know their leader understands their strengths and will provide the guidance and feedback they need to improve. Uncertainty or mistakes are treated as teachable moments rather than chastised, critiqued, or, worse, covered up. As a result, healthy relationships are established and fostered.

The Organization Thrives

Nurturing positive relationships between leaders and their teams is imperative. The leadership team is tasked with building the strategic plan and laying out the vision for the organization. We rely on the department leaders to translate and execute that plan. Because we trust the teams to carry out the work and to know that help and coaching is available when it’s wanted, everyone can focus on the tasks in front of them without fear of something falling through the cracks or someone constantly standing over their shoulder.

By empowering and engaging Select International employees through one-on-one conversations, we give employees the trust and autonomy to execute the ideas that we discuss. This results in meeting our goals for growth.

Here are a few things that work well for us:

  • Outline what we are trying to achieve AND why.

    As I mentioned earlier, many employees who left their previous positions cited that their managers didn’t provide direction or outline long-term goals. So, this is a good place to start. Sit down with each team member and together, outline a plan for upcoming projects or goals that you want to see them achieve. This is the "what." Most importantly, get them passionate as to "why" these outcomes are important. During the discussion, provide suggestions on what they can do to be successful in completing those projects or accomplishing the goals. But, ultimately, leave the "how" up to them.

  • Provide your team with the resources and ownership they need to do their jobs.

    When assigning new projects or responsibilities, work with each team member to understand the resources they will need to get the job done. Is it a third-party resource, another team member, etc.? Whatever it is, provide the direction or the budget to help them be successful. If budget is a concern, have them do research to find a cheaper (or free) alternative that accomplishes the same objective. I’ve seen people get very creative at finding ways to get their work done.

    Empower team members by giving them ownership of the project and the freedom to do what they think is best. Let them know you have their back, and will provide coaching and feedback to address any concerns they have about the direction they are taking.

  • Set up a reasonable schedule to check in with your team to provide feedback and ask where you might be able to help.

    To reiterate, no one enjoys being micromanaged. You’ve given your team ownership of their projects, but that doesn’t mean leaving them hanging in the wind. Set up mutually agreed upon check-ins to discuss how their projects are going. Ask what they are happy with and where they may need help. Praise what is going well (super important), and provide constructive feedback where improvements can be made. If, for example, they’re encountering a lack of responsiveness from another department, offer to facilitate a conversation to get them what they need to move the project forward. In other words, offer assistance but don’t step in and take over, unless that is what is really wanted. That’s the kind of real support that can make a difference.

  • Understand that success is shared. 

    This one is straight forward. You’ve built an amazing team and you are providing them with everything they need to be successful. Trust that they know what they’re doing, offer guidance, get out of the way, and let them do their jobs. When they’re successful, you’re successful.

The main takeaway? Trust begets increased productivity and success. When leaders are confident that their teams are equipped to handle the responsibilities they are given, and team members know they have been given both the freedom to use their expertise and the support they want when they get stuck, it creates great relationships and environments where everyone thrives and succeeds.

There is a great quote from General George S. Patton that sums this up nicely.

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Doug Wolf Doug Wolf was the Chief Executive Officer at Select International, which was acquired by PSI. He works extensively with organizations that have large‐scale, national and global staffing needs. His expertise includes competency‐based job analysis, selection system design, validation, applicant sourcing, automated testing, virtual job auditions, structured interviewing, applicant tracking, reducing risk in the selection process, OFCCP and EEOC compliance reporting, and turnover analyses.