Empowering Great Employees to Make Great Decisions

Great decision-making skills are critical to a leader’s success. What people tend to forget, however, is that trusting employees to make great decisions is equally critical to a leader’s success.


We’ve worked with many managers who have created great organizations. They are strong, technically. They make the right decisions and they produce great outcomes. But, when we interview their employees, we find that people are unhappy, even though they work for a successful organization with a great reputation. This unhappiness stems from not being included in the decisions that impact the work they do on a daily basis. It’s important to note that the employees we interviewed are the ones who are doing the great work that enables the leader to be successful in the first place.


These leaders could be even more successful if they involved their team members in the decision-making process. If the team members were not qualified to make decisions regarding the work they do daily, they probably should be working for a different organization.


Although we are proponents of getting employees involved in the decision-making process, we acknowledge that there are four very real risks involved in allowing employees to make decisions.


First, you (the leader) lose control. When you make the decision, you maintain more control of the process and the outcome. There are no questions to ask because there is no need to gain additional information when you have made the decision. Turning the decision over to employees feels uncomfortable to many leaders because they don’t know the outcome in advance.


Second, giving up control and letting employees make the decision takes more time. You could have made the decision in 10 seconds on the way to work. To get employees involved could add minutes, hours, days or even weeks to the decision-making process.


Third, they may make a wrong decision that produces a bad outcome. Is there anything that could be good in a bad decision producing a bad outcome? Yes, there is. It was Tom Watson, Sr., who had one of his direct reports make a decision that ultimately cost IBM $600,000. When recounting this event later on, Mr. Watson declared, “Recently, I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience?’”


Fourth, employees may make a decision that works, but is not the best decision in the leader’s mind. Some leaders get frustrated when trying to live with an outcome or decision that they believe would be better if their own decision had been implemented.


Despite these four challenges, the benefits of involving employees in the decision-making process far outweigh the challenges.


Here are six reasons why you should include your team members in the decisions you make.


  1. Employees feel valued. When you ask an employee for their opinion or tell them to go ahead and make the decision that they feel would work best, you indirectly tell people that you feel their opinion counts.
  2. Employees feel trusted. When an employee makes a recommendation and you say, “Go for it,” you indirectly tell your employees that you trust their judgment. Despite the risk, the employee learns firsthand what decisions don’t work, and what decisions work best.
  3. Employees learn and grow. When you ask successful people how they became successful, many will tell you they have had a great number of experiences in their life. When you ask them how they gained this experience, they will tell you that they made a lot of decisions…some that were good ones, and some much less so. The more decisions you make, the more you have the opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t.
  4. Employees feel a responsibility to think. When employees feel valued and trusted, they feel a responsibility to come up with ideas and suggestions of how to improve their work or resolve problems in their organization.
  5. Innovation and continuous improvement will increase. When employees feel a responsibility to think of ways to improve their job or the organization, innovation no longer solely resides with you, the leader.
  6. Employees will be more empowered and engaged to take action. When employees feel trusted and valued because they have been given a responsibility to think and improve the organization, most will feel energized and empowered to take action.


Each day you’re faced with a myriad of decisions that need to be made. We challenge you to think about which decisions you absolutely need to make solo, and which ones would be better made by involving employees. Experiment with giving employees more ownership of decisions that impact their work. Empower them to make a difference. We bet you’ll end up with confident, enthusiastic employees who say, “I love my job.”

(1) Comment

  1. I thought this was a great article. It is an example of how I try to Manage in my department on a daily basis. Many times the staff can be a little smarter than the “Boss” in certain areas. I can tell you having staff members that are a little smarter than I am, enables me to look over the hood of the car for the curves in the road ahead. Great Article!!!

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