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Why your employees don’t make decisions

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By Jim Counts

Dear Answer Man, I am so frustrated! I sat down to read the articles in the ToolBox and have been interrupted three times, by questions which have come up before, and I have told the same people how to handle those issues, or make that decision. It’s like they forget everything they have learned every night. I actually read about a condition which causes that and surely it’s contagious, because the whole staff seems to. Horacio

Thanks for your question, Horacio, I have briefly mentioned this situation before in other articles, but I will get into the issue and possible solutions in greater depth here.

The short answer is, “They ask the same questions, because we train them to.” This is usually unintentional on our part; but, we have to think like an employee to understand their actions. If we tell them what to do, the employee can’t be criticized for their decision. That may seem over simplistic, but it’s the reason.

Employees are human

If employees come to us every time something comes up, and we tell them what to do, they are safe. If they are lucky, we might just take the problem off their hands and do it our self. “Wow, that was nice,” they think; “I’ll try that again.” The next time something comes up that is not quite normal, they head for our desk to see if the same thing will work again. The more it works, the more problems they bring to us. Once in awhile we may complain that they can't seem to make any decisions on their own; but they are thinking that its a lot better than taking the chance of making a WRONG decision.

We want it that way

For a few managers and owners, the reason that everything comes to us, may be that we want it that way. I have seen management complain about this problem. But then I realize they just want me and everyone else to see them as indispensable. They seem to have the idea that their status, or job security, comes from being the only ones who keep the place running. They might say they want employees to make decisions, but when an employee does make a decision, they are told it is wrong. My dad used to do that to me. I could do exactly what I saw him do, in what I believed was exactly the same situation, but, for some reason, my decision was almost always wrong. My solution was the same as any halfway intelligent person, I stopped making decisions. Yes, he made comments like, “I don’t know how you are ever going to get through life without me around to make all your decisions”. He never figured out that he was the reason. I think anyone who knows me, also knows I’m not afraid to make decisions or take action. However, I’m also smart enough to not keep fighting a losing battle.

The bottleneck

So, if we keep changing rules for this or that little exception, then we will have to make all the decisions and our company will never be very big. Why? Because we are the bottle neck in the company.


The following are suggestions to get employees to make better decisions:

  • First - Hire people with brains who are willing to work. If you want cheap employees, you get what you pay for.

  • Second - If you belittle people, you will have employees who can’t get a job anywhere else. They will retaliate in many ways. Such as miss work twice a month, or steal from you, or fake being hurt or sick, and/or cause hate and dissension among employees.

  • Third - Don’t ever take a piece of paper from an employee until you know what’s on it and why they came to you with it! This is very important! As long as the employee has that paper in their hand, it’s still their problem! Once you take it, you are likely to wind up having to deal with it yourself.

  • Forth - Insist, within reason, of course, that employees come to you with suggestions of what to do with a problem. This alone will reduce the number of things they bring to you, because they will have to think it through before they come to you.

  • Fifth - Never criticize or belittle an employee for their ideas on how to handle a problem. If you do, you won’t get any more suggestions. All the problems will be yours to handle. I know their ideas may be way off sometimes, but that’s fine. You can politely explain how you think the problem should be handled and why. It’s important they understand your reasoning process. Gradually, their suggestions will get better. Less issues will come to you. If they don’t, you probably have the wrong person in that job.

  • Sixth - Be prepared for employees to not always do everything the way you would. This could be a good thing. Maybe you really don’t have all the correct answers. If you have an issue with a decision, never criticize the one who made it in front of other employees. Get them away from everyone and tell them you appreciate the fact that they were willing to try to handle the problem. Explain what you would like them to consider the next time this problem comes up. Thank them again for being willing to handle problems.

  • Seventh - Look for opportunities to brag on good decisions made by employees. Do this in the presence of other staff members. It makes the employee feel great and encourages others to learn to do the same.

In summary

If you want your company to grow, you must have people who can learn to make good decisions. Start with reasonable, intelligent people. Let them know what your goals are and how you want to reach them. Ask for their ideas and thoughts on how to reach your goals. Resolve roadblocks that may arise. Always thank them for their input and never embarrass or humiliate them. Take the time to explain why you want things done a certain way, so your employees can learn to think your way. They may have some very good ideas.

When an employee comes up with a good idea, brag on them in front of the others. Always give them credit even if you planted the seed that created it. They will love you for it and work hard to come up with more suggestions.

You will discover who is growing and blooming like a flower. You will also discover who is a rock. Don’t waste your time watering the rocks.

If you plan to retire someday, you need to start bringing key people up to speed on what needs to be done and how to accomplish it. Teaching them how to make good decisions is just one of the things they need to learn before you can leave. Don’t wait too long to start training. You may find you are just tired, instead of retired.

Horacio, thank you again for your question and for taking the time to read the articles in the Toolbox. There is a lot of knowledge shared here.

Jim Counts

Jim Counts

To all of you, keep those questions coming. Jim Counts


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