Executive Axiom 9 – Build Discretion into Organizational Design


Veteran, new and aspiring executives need methods to be successful in their organizations. There are 1000s of leadership podcasts, videos, blogs, and articles but few authors address what to do or how to do it. We have witnessed many executives who are efficient (doing things right), but few executives are effective (doing the right things). We believe this is misguided and aim to remedy the shortfall with executives.

This is the 127th episode of the Effective Executive podcast. In 2023, you will see a series of Executive axioms in episodes. In the ninth axiom, you will learn why discretion around principles leads to better outcomes than scripts, rules, procedures, and policies. Download our Effective Executive Starter Kit.

This is the ninth executive axiom. And I’ve designated this one by the name of build discretion into your organizational design. And this kind of goes along with the third executive axiom, which was control belongs to the worker. But it’s a bit different. And hopefully, you’ll see the Venn diagram of the two.

So, I played golf in college, and one of the things that you did when you weren’t in a meet was, you know, use a bunch of golf aids to help with your potting or your alignment or, you know, there are a whole series of things, and a lot of the stuff is videotaped today. So I guess you could consider that a golf aide, but, and then you also had a series of swing thoughts that you would, you know, consciously practice, you know, I’m going to pick it back a little bit more inside, because I’ve been taking it outside, you know, oh, if you’re a golfer, you know, what I’m talking about.

But when you get on the course, it’s, it’s a lot different. You can’t be, can’t be thinking about 50 different things, while you’re trying to shoot a score and a meet, or playing, you know, some relatively serious golf. And, you know, so I limited my, my routine, when I was in a meet to, you know, visualizing the shot, you know, I put a line on my golf balls to help with my putting, or my alignment, you know, on on my shots, my drive or my putting, because you obviously can’t pick up the ball when you’re playing when it’s in play.

But, you know, there were, there was a limit to the amount of things that I could carry to the course with me, as far as swing thoughts, and they were usually around the things I just mentioned, and things like tempo, making sure I didn’t get too quick, on my swing, and those were my kind of my swing thoughts, and I limited them practice, totally different, you know, try 50 different things, and, you know, be thinking about a lot of different things.

And this transfers over very well, it’s a good analogy for employees, you know, when they first start out, they need to be trained. And they need lots of structure associated with, you know, learning products and services that you have, maybe you have some type of problem solving type of regimen that you teach employees, but once you attri achieve, well, I’m going to say competency, but it could also be where more training of the type that you’re getting, won’t to you good anymore. And that’s why training really is very important.

Because you’re, you’re kind of training to a specific set of skills that you need to gain in order to do the job. And, you know, if you train wrong at the beginning, I can tell you this from watching many golfers over the years, where they, maybe their dad helped them develop their swing, or somebody that was as incompetent as they were maybe a little bit more competent, they get trained a certain way and not by in a skilled way. And that can be very devastating. Because once you’ve kind of got a habit of doing things, then you are consistently a bad golfer.

The importance of training and developing skills cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to workers. If employees are trained incorrectly, it can lead to ceaseless issues. However, training is not just about learning rules, processes, and procedures; it’s about teaching workers to use their discretion.

Discretion means following principles instead of strict rules found in scripts, policies, and procedures. By working to principles, employees know what the right thing to do is but have the freedom to use their own judgment in applying these principles to specific situations.

In organizations, a customer creed, which outlines what is important to customers, is developed. Once employees have gained knowledge and skills, they can work to these principles. Working to principles allows for more flexibility in interactions with customers and within the organization itself, as everyone knows what is important to customers.

Rather than controlling every aspect of employees’ work through procedures and rules, allowing for discretion in working with principles creates more engagement and better decision-making. When workers have a sense of what the organization’s principles are, they can develop them on their own, allowing for more brain engagement and better customer service experience.

As an executive, it is essential to understand what is important to customers by listening to them. When designing an organization, it is crucial to involve frontline workers in developing principles, rather than dictating control pieces.

In the end, by enabling workers to use discretion using principles that they can have flexibility over, organizations can achieve better customer service experience and employee engagement. Remember, there is always a better way.

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