3.3 Streamlining systems and removing annoying processes

Targets set are achievable
Employees receive regular reviews and support for improvement
Knowledge and skill development are an expectation
Unnecessary checks, controls and permission-seeking removed

Are the systems and processes that govern decision-making, resource allocation and standard operating procedures aligned with empowerment and trust? Or do they reflect a culture of centralised control and micro-management? Truly innovative workplaces recognise the need for a consistent approach to empowerment, learning and development running through every aspect of corporate policy from reward systems and performance appraisal to flexible working and budget devolution.

Consider this question:

How much management control is actually necessary? Are the risks of loosening control greater than the (real and opportunity) costs of spending senior management time on relatively trivial issues, as well as the disempowerment and mistrust experienced by employees?

In one UK city council, a leisure centre manager needs eight signatures on a piece of paper from different senior managers in order to recruit a junior member of staff from his own budget. The process can take months and meanwhile the work gets done by expensive temporary staff. It makes the managers feel undervalued and mistrusted.

The delegation of decision-making frees up management time for more important tasks (though of course organisations may also find that they need fewer managers!) It improves the speed and responsiveness of decision making and reduces delays in production and service delivery, while conveying a message of trust to people at the frontline.

Here is a very simple tool. Take some key areas of day-to-day decision-making and test the potential for delegation:

Download this table.

How much senior time is released through delegation, and what does this represent as a cost saving? Can you quantify other gains, such as the cost reductions associated with speedier decision-making? Other benefits, such as enhanced trust and engagement, are less tangible but nonetheless important for organisational success.

Of course, frontline managers and team members need to acquire the knowledge, skills and confidence to take on responsibility for effective and accountable decision-making. This needs to be supported by the culture of the organisation as a whole, the avoidance of blame and a coaching style of management.

And consider another question:

Are all your meetings really necessary?

Meetings can also be highly ritualised as a means of avoiding blame or recrimination if things go wrong. Invitations are sent out indiscriminately, often to people with only a minor stake in the issue under consideration. Time is wasted and decisions are delayed by such defensive practices.

On the other hand, meetings can often exclude those most affected by the resulting decisions typically frontline employees, admin staff and others whose tacit knowledge and experience can lead to better decisions and shared understanding.

Finally meetings need to be managed in ways that enable everyone to be heard and in which ‘the force of the better argument’ shapes outcomes.

And are your meetings fit for purpose?

Different issues also need different types of meeting format. Creative solutions and frontline employee engagement are more likely in relatively informal settings rather than around the boardroom table.

You can download our Meeting Protocol together with a really useful Evaluating Meetings questionnaire for regular use in ensuring that meetings don’t become unproductive – or just plain boring!

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Forum topic: How can you build trust and delegate decision-making?

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