Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Is This a Good Decision for My Business?

I run KPEnterprises - The Best I.T. Consulting Business in Sacramento. And like you I sometimes need to make difficult decisions. And as we grow, my staff need to make these decisions without bothering me.

Some decisions are very easy: YES we do that; or NO we don't do that. Some are based on money: If you want us to work after 5:00 PM the cost is higher. If you're okay with that, then let's schedule it.

But there are also many decisions that could go either way. Someone wants a price break. Can we include the PC tune-up in the initial install? Most of these decisions are money decisions. And there's always a tendency to push money decisions up the ladder to the top. That's true no matter how small the dollar amount is.

I've had technicians track me down, leave voice mails, and drag me out of meetings to ask whether they can give away a network cable that costs $3. Maybe it's their personality. Maybe their previous boss would have killed them for this. I don't know why people do such things -- except that they have never been told that it's okay to make a decision!

There are a few guidelines out there for handing off decisions to your staff. One of the more popular ones is based on dollar amount. For example, if the item in question is under $25, just do what makes the customer happy. It might be $50 or $100 or whatever.

A twist on this is that one level of employee (line tech) has a $25 discretionary spending and another (supervisor/manager) has a higher spending limit.

That's all good, but doesn't address the more important question. Without regard to dollar amounts, Is This a Good Decision for My Business? In our case, that translates into Is This a Good Decision for KPEnterprises?

Here are a few guidelines we wrote up for our company. I originally got this idea after reading How to Make a Buck and Still Be a Decent Human Being by Richard C. Rose and Echo Montgomery Garrett.

Is This a Good Decision for KPEnterprises?
  • Question 1: Is it the right thing for the client?

  • Question 2: Is it the right thing for KPEnterprises?

  • Question 3: Is it ethical?

  • Question 4: Is it something for which you are willing to be held accountable?

  • Question 5: Is it consistent with KPEnterprises' basic beliefs and goals?

  • Question 6: Is this a client we want to keep?

If the answer to all of these questions is "YES" then do it!

Just in case you think this is an easy thing you can pass on to your technicians and administrative assistants this afternoon, please remember: You staff have to be able to answer these questions!

In other words, they have to be able to discern what is the best thing for the client, and for your company. You have to agree on what is ethical. They have to know what it means to be accountable. They have to know your (the company's) core beliefs and goals. And they have to know which clients you want to keep.

The good news is: cheating is encouraged. That means your staff can talk to each other when you're not around. The more they practice going through this list, the more they will come to a common understanding of the answers.

The most fearful question is "Is this a client we want to keep?" Uh. They better get that one right. In reality you probably have very few clients you don't want to keep. So make it easy on your staff. Fire the marginal clients now and then your staff will know that you definitely want to keep the rest. :-)

I'm not a fan of the term "empowering" (makes me think of the Fantastic Four and I get distracted). But if you want to enable your employees to make good decisions and learn to have more of an owner/stakeholder mentality, then you need to spend a little time on the education necessary to make this work.

Your list doesn't have to be my list. But think about what is on your list. What 5-6 questions need to be asked so that your staff can do their jobs better and more independently, leaving you more time to do your own job?

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  1. Anonymous7:51 AM

    Great post, Karl! Makes me think about what my questions should be.

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