As a follow up to my previous post on CEOs who micromanage, I’d like to offer some information on how leaders can motivate and empower their employees. One of a leader’s most important responsibilities is to establish boundaries for employees. Think of a football field, where the goalposts define the end zone and the sidelines define the field. Some coaches will send their quarterback out to play the game, letting him be free to make choices within the game plan and within the boundary lines.
In companies, boundaries include things like budgets, employee rules, customer service standards, quality levels or improvement initiatives. I used to tell my employees, “You can change anything you want on the shop floor as long as it makes an improvement. You have two weeks to determine if it made an improvement, and if it didn’t, put it back the way it was.” This allows employees to play the game and learn from their mistakes while staying inside the boundaries.
We also set a budgetary boundary: employees could spend up to $1000 (within budget constraints) without approval. Other boundaries included abiding by the employee manual (e.g. not changing job titles, though they were free to adjust responsibilities), maintaining a certain level of quality and maintaining lead-time. They were free to implement their own improvement ideas within the boundaries we had set.
This creates empowered employees, high morale, and the kind of proactive thinking that fosters innovation in a company. These are all key ingredients in creating an action imperative.
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