“The wisdom of the decision has nothing to do with the power of the position,” says Clay Mathile, Founder and Chairman at Aileron and Former CEO and owner of The Iams Company.
When you train and empower everyone to make decisions that serve the company’s strategy, that’s when innovation and problem-solving can happen regardless of someone’s role within the company, says Clay. Keeping this in mind, here are three ways to empower your people to be at their best.
#1: Offer Employees Opportunities to Learn
Business owners and leaders need to be committed to educating their people which helps them to make better decisions, no matter their role. “That is where you get high levels of productivity and high levels of involvement—when you really educate people on the values of the business, the culture of the business, and the expectations you have for people within the business,” explains Clay.
Clay says education is one of the most important things you can do for your employees. “Good business owners need to be good educators,” says Clay. “They need to be good teachers of the trade—of the business you’re in—and good teachers of the culture.”
For example, Iams had a course on nutrition which helped employees, regardless of their background. “Nutrition was our science, and it was important for our employees to know about nutrition, and how you enhance it, and how you hurt it, and how you preserve it,” says Clay.
It was important for employees to understand nutrition, and it was also important to teach how to operate in alignment with the Iams culture. “We also paid our employees’ tuition to college and graduate school,” says Clay. “If you spend a dollar on a machine, you get two dollars back. If you spend a dollar on a person, you get ten dollars back.”
“I really believe if you spend a dollar on educating your employee, it’s worth five times more than it is if you spend a dollar on a machine.”
#2: Walk the Talk
“When you talk about empowering people to make decisions and to [be problem-solvers], every time you do that, there’s a chance for error. There’s a chance for mistakes,” explains Clay.
If mistakes are made or if costs are incurred because innovation was pursued, be careful to protect the integrity of your process. Learn to be tolerant of mistakes if you really want to empower people to make decisions and to be creative. “You have to back it up. You have to walk the talk.”
#3: Seek Ways to Reward the Team
Encouraging a culture with “spread out” decision-making requires recognition of innovation at all levels. “I don’t believe in individual reward for individual efforts,” explains Clay, who recommends rewarding the entire team for the outcome.
One example would be a generous profit-sharing program, so as the company improves, and as profitability improves, employees also benefit together. “Try to focus on the entire organization moving ahead, and the entire organization getting better, and not necessarily one individual group.”
“The C-Level Doesn’t Have All the Answers”
Keep in mind that the C-level doesn’t have all the answers. The answers are from up and down the organization, and good ideas come from all departments and positions in the company.
At Iams, people learned to expect that they could make decisions, and it wasn’t about their level within the organization. Instead, it was about making decisions that could have a positive impact for the company, the teams, and the customer.
For example, in Aurora, Nebraska there was an Iams manufacturing plant that was responsible for supplying product across the United States. The goods were shipped in rail cars, on wood pallets from the plant to the warehouse. When the product was shipped, it would eventually be taken off the rail car, and the pallets, which were used to transport the product, were no longer needed.
Front line employees said, “Why don’t we just eliminate the pallets?”
The workers found a way to ship the product in stacks, but without the need for pallets.
“What they came up with was an attachment to the lift truck that would pull the load onto forks, and then we would push them off when you got to the [destination].” By eliminating the need for pallets, the employees’ solution helped to save more than a million dollars per year.
“The front lines are where good ideas need to flourish and where decisions need to be made. Senior management has to believe that. You have to believe that, right down to your bones,” adds Clay. “Otherwise it’s just lip service.”
Empowering Your Employees Starts with You
What are you empowering your employees for? Engagement starts with knowing your company’s purpose (the “why”). And knowing how your business fits into your personal “why” (and not the other way around). Remember you run your business, your business doesn’t run you. Learn more about your “why” and a proven system to reach it in our free, 45 minute discovery session.