Dane Miller, founder of Biomet, had a hard time keeping up with the IT world. Trained as a biomechanical engineer, he was a brilliant CEO and inventor, but never pretended that he knew it all. When the company was buying a half million dollars worth of computer hardware he said that he would sign a generic name on the requisition to show that someone lower in the company could know as much about the decision as he did.
Dane forced down company decision making at Biomet to take advantage of the knowledge base around him. Not an easy thing to do when everyone defers to you. His mindset to make decisions at the right level helped build Biomet from startup to $12 billion valuation.
Empowering Employees. We entrepreneurs can be kind of controlling, but there is a point when it no longer pays to have your hand in everything. Rock Mackie, founder of TomoTherapy, inventor and manufacturer of advanced MRI machines for treating tumors, is a big fan of employees making decisions and sometimes mistakes. It’s hard to sit on your hands but Rock argues that “The dangerous thing is that you will micromanage employees to death. You have to know what are important and not-so-important decisions. Let your employees make smaller decisions even when you disagree. It’s too easy to continuously correct and give your opinion.”
SurePayroll has a great technique. They hand out a reward for the biggest mistake made each year. It’s their way of showing the team that it’s good to take risks.
Decision Democracy Increases Innovation. Participating in company decision making gets employees more vested in the organization and can have huge payoffs. Raj Soin started MTC Technologies with $1,700. Just as he had entrepreneurial desires, he wanted his employees to have the chance to launch companies. So he set up an incubator. “I challenge my engineers and other employees who come up with an idea to present it, and then we fund them to take it to the next level,” Raj said when I interviewed him for How They Did It. He knew that the best innovation would not always come from the top, so empowering everyone within the company to think about problems and solutions outside of their immediate projects led MTC to spin out 20 additional companies before being acquired by BAE for $425 million.
A Built-in Culture of Company Decision Making. I visited Zappos headquarters and took note of CEO Tony Hsieh’s desk mixed in with everyone else. Not a hint of hierarchy. Every new hire goes through customer service training, no matter what their role. Employees are encouraged to make decisions and take ownership of the company’s reputation through every interaction with a customer. They were proud to tell us the longest customer call was 8 hours. The result is a culture of outstanding customer service that even extends to handwritten thank you notes from someone like Isabella.
Imagine your company full of Isabellas – people who put their heart into their work. Holding some decisions too close? Now is the time to entrust and empower your employees.
**Robert Jordan is a Forbes.com contributor. View the original posting of this article on Forbes.com.