As leaders, we must first surface and address the hidden assumptions we hold about the nature of management and the capacity of “lower ranking” employees to deliver. Leaders often hold far more negative perceptions about the trustworthiness, capacity and willingness of employees than they first realise. Without challenging these, we struggle to let go.
A leader needs to be self-aware and reflective in order to let go of authoritarian control. This involves taking the time to step back and deconstruct how things have always been done, in favour of exploring better ways to help our teams.
We can understand all the steps involved in letting go decision making, but if we cannot bear to trust those around us with more freedom then we will remain stuck where we are.
Experimenting with concrete, actionable ways to alter decision-making hierarchies within teams is a low risk and effective way to start letting go of control. By piloting small changes in how control is distributed, the risk is reduced; not only for the manager but for any seniors who need to see how it works before they're won over. Plus, the employees who are taking on more responsibility can absorb this change in increments and are not set up to fail as a result.
Most employees have never had any significant decision-making responsibilities. Getting them to a place where they’re comfortable doing so may take some education. For example, they will need a certain level of commercial literacy if they are to become more regular decision makers within a business.
Information is key. Allowing employees to make more decisions without giving them full disclosure is a recipe for failure. Having the right context and understanding the consequences of a decision are absolutely necessary - the more sensitive the issues, the more it needs to be shared.
Increased decision making requires more clarity around an individual’s personal purpose and how it relates to that of the organisation’s. We should ensure this is understood by all parties.
If we are handing over more responsibility, then we’re within our rights to ask for some accountability in return. This should take the form of co-designing what is to be expected and achieved.
The manager can set limitations and boundaries for what is out of bounds for the employee to decide upon. This is particularly true early on when we begin opening up employee freedom.
A decision-making model
Decision making is always based on a model - whether it's democratic or autocratic. In handing on decision making, we should talk through the model that will be used and hold the decision maker to a commitment to stick to it.
“A common belief is that a change in structure is a means for changing culture or changing behaviour. Changing structure alone is never enough. If the structure changes but the belief system about maintaining control and consistency and predictability remains untouched, nothing of meaning has occurred.”