Thursday, March 3, 2011

How the wrong words can slow your company's growth

Words managers are afraid to say 

There is a much larger impact on the organization as a whole when the managers are not having the right conversations with employees.  As a manager, you should always have an exit strategy and a successor.  While it is important to possess knowledge yourself, it is more important to know how to manage knowledge.  More importantly, managers are responsible for extracting as much knowledge as is required to build a thriving organization.  So the notion of being afraid to tell your people you don’t know, you were wrong, or ask them, “what do you think?,” or “what would you do?,” is a formula for a struggling organization.   

I have seen smart managers come up with all the answers.  In the end, his employees became resentful and sat back and watched the manager solve all the problems.  As long as the manager had “the right answer” the other employees were not able to contribute.  Unfortunately, that manager stunted his and his company’s growth.  All problem solving depended on him, so once he was taken out of the operations room, the employees had to make the tough decisions themselves.  As they became more confident in their problem solving abilities, they became a huge asset to the organization.  In fact, they developed a competitive edge as an operations team.  That only happened because the new manager used the Socratic approach.  He started asking what would you do if I were not here?  Can you explain what will happen if…?    

Asking questions serves several purposes.

  1. Develop leaders – successors
  2. Creates problem solvers who can function independently
  3. It ensures your people feel valuable to you and the enterprise

In times of constant change and global competition, no one should have the same job functions from one year to the next.  As a manager, you should be working to make yourself obsolete.  Work yourself out of a job.  To do that, you will have to find a successor.  Or your people will choose the successor.  Delegating is one way to prepare people for increased responsibility. 

The other is to let your people have the answers.  There are times when you may know it.  However, it is more valuable long term to ask your people to solve the problem for or in partnership with you.  As your people become accustomed to your dialogue, they will have a process for solving complex problems.  As a manager, this frees you up to focus on larger issues, instead of putting out fires your people are not comfortable handling. 

When your team or company grows, your direct reports develop a sense of pride knowing they contributed to the growth.  Asking your people questions empowers them and makes them feel valued.  If you have all the answers they are not needed.