When I started my business several years ago, I found myself trying to control every aspect of the day-to-day. I micromanaged my team, refusing to let them use their own creativity to solve problems. I believed, like many entrepreneurs, that if I wanted it done right, I would have to do it myself.
Needless to say, I am not alone in making this mistake. Those trying to build great organizations commonly mistake control for power. They believe that the more direct control they have, the more power they will amass, and that they must maintain this mentality in every aspect of the business. To achieve this, they may try to force those around them to behave like robots who solely heed his or her commands.
This is not the reality for leading truly great organizations: the opposite is true, in fact, and great leaders know this. But there are a few critical steps you can take to start relinquishing your control for the betterment of your organization, while improving customer satisfaction in the process.
Talk to your team.
Talking to your employees is a critical first step for this transfer of power. There are many ways to go about this process: given the small number of people on our team, we scheduled "talking sessions" on everyone's calendars so they could openly share their thoughts. We made sure to provide a no-judgment atmosphere in order for our team to truly feel comfortable opening up. After I spent some time talking to my employees, I discovered that several front-line team members felt powerless when it came to ensuring customer satisfaction, so I created processes that would provide them the autonomy to make decisions that truly helped the customer. I learned that if you are hiring the best people and giving them the training and resources they need to be successful, the first thing you need to do is ask what they need to do their jobs better, and how you can help make that happen.
Train your team to make better, faster decisions.
Employees need to be able to quantify what they are offering the customer and understand at what levels the company would be affected by their choices so that they can make wiser decisions. This can only be accomplished with absolute transparency about the company's current situation. After we disclosed to our team the company's health and how their decisions would impact the overall performance of the organization, they re-calibrated their thinking to recognize the bigger picture.
People want to do great work, and they want to be able to correct customer issues without having to go through a corporate bureaucracy to do so. By giving my team that power and autonomy, our customer satisfaction has more than doubled and our customer turnover has almost completely disappeared. Bear in mind that this is a learning process that will likely evolve throughout the life of your company. If you can train your team to make decisions that speed up your time to market, enhance revenues and build solid customer relationships, the benefits will be felt company-wide.
Trust your team to act on their decisions.
This is the hardest thing to do, yet it is also the most important. Great leaders learn to trust that their team will make the kinds of decisions that will enhance the company's well-being, while also ensuring that customers and clients continue to receive stellar service and solutions.
What finally worked for me was the fact that I trusted and had confidence in my newly improved hiring practices and training programs. If that confidence exists, then trust is easy -- you simply have to trust in the systems and processes you've built.
Shift from a "control" mindset to a guidance/mentorship mindset.
Building a culture is not easy, and it is not something that happens quarter by quarter. The decision to change the control structure of a company is a long-term strategy that needs to have a long-term view. Many will ask, "If the leader gives away his or her control to the front-line personnel of his company, then what does his or her new role become?"
After I gave day-to-day responsibilities to my team, my role as the leader of the organization became one of guidance, support and mentoring. This transition from manager to mentor can only be developed when we focus on people's behaviors, not their results. Managers are always measuring a person's tangible deliverables; as a mentor, however the big concerns are not the "what," but rather the "why" and "how." This change of focus is by no means easy, but it will ultimately train your team to behave as leaders and develop their own path for growth.
When people feel empowered, their pleasure from work grows exponentially, and they feel more in control of the biggest part of their daily lives: their careers. See what happens when you relinquish some of your power; more often than not, you'll be surprised by the good outcomes that follow. Great leaders know that an organization built on trust will continue to produce the greatest technological and process improvements of our time.
Rahim Charania is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of American Fueling Systems; he has propelled AFS from a small startup to a recognized leader in the alternative fuel industry.