One of the most important things for a decision maker is to know the limits of his or her authority. That is, when they have to come to you or their supervisor for approval before a final decision can be made as with expenditures, staffing decisions or disciplinary actions, for example. Unless you clearly specify these limits, you can not expect them to know what they are.
Knowing how much authority they have to make decisions is critical to a manager’s ability to do their job efficiently. You just do not want your staff coming to you for permission on every decision. This is such a terrible waste of time for both you and the employee.
I was working with a very successful technology business and had been meeting with the managers to evaluate the effectiveness of the staff. During one of these discussions, a new senior manager started talking about the trouble he had been having with a problem employee.
When I asked the manager why he did not do anything about the employee, he said he just did not have the authority. As a side note, he also commented that he did not have the authority to make any decisions about spending money either. I asked him how he knew this and he said he was never told that he could make these or any other decisions.
As I probed further into the situation, the manager said he had never initiated a conversation about authority with the owner because he did not have the courage to broach the subject. He did say, though, that he hoped the owner would tell him soon what his decision parameters were.
I wish I could say this was an isolated example, but I see situations like these on a regular basis. In these cases, I believe the entrepreneurs or managers are hesitant to give their staff any authority because they do not know if they can trust them to make good decisions.
The problem with this mindset is that employees can be coached in their decision-making, but if they are never given the opportunity, they will never learn how to make good decisions. In the event a lower-level manager has been given decision-making authority, received coaching and you still can not trust their judgment, it may be time to consider that the employee is no longer serving the needs of the company.
Now go out and make sure your employees clearly understand the extent of their authority. The sooner you convey this information, the better. Obviously, these parameters will change as the employee becomes more experienced and proves again and again that you can trust their decisions.
Jerome S. Osteryoung, director of outreach services at the Jim Moran Institute in the College of Business at Florida State University, can be reached at 850-294-7478.