FORMER US president Hany S Truman is famously quoted as having said “The buck stops here”, and I’ve seen this quote (and others similar) framed and up on many a CEO’s office wall.
But what if you’re not the boss? Does that mean you pass the buck when there’s a decision to be made or a question to be answered? Or do you take responsibility and try not to escalate problems upwards?
Let’s focus on the day-to-day business in your average office. These days, when you’re faced with a question or situation you don’t know the answer to, it can be all too easy to just ask instead of finding out for yourself. Sometimes that will be the right thing to do, but sometimes from a business-efficiency point of view there’s a problem. Bosses, managers and business owners are being inundated with questions.
The average manager is interrupted eveiy eight minutes ... and the interruptions are often questions that could be answered by someone else; usually the person who’s doing the asking. This means that managers are getting too bogged down in detail and damage control.
It’s fair to say that there are some contributing factors to this problem. Some managers don’t delegate properly and refuse to let go of authority when they should.
Also, sometimes the same systems that should be making us more efficient end up doing the opposite - email, for instance. If we’re not careful, we end up logging eveiy little problem using email to ask for a decision (especially when there are several people needed to approve it) and the system just ends up clogged with emails and notifications and reminders. All of this adds to the feeling that there aren’t enough people to handle all these jobs and people end up dreading what might be lurking in their inbox, worrying about what might go wrong next.
So, when you’re faced with that question or situation you don’t know the answer to you can: pass it up the line; or you can pretend that no-one knows the answer and find out for yourself.
But how do you do that?
Here are my top 12 ways to reduce buck-passing.
1. Read: Whatever you need to know, I guarantee there’ll be a book, eBook, how-to guide or article somewhere that will point you in the right direction.
2. Peer review: Test out your answer/course of action with a panel of experts; in other words, ask a few colleagues or talk to members of your network (presenting them with an answer is veiy different to just throwing the question at them.)
3. Web: Google, YouTube, ehow and other sites are all great for posing a question and getting loads of answers. (But remember to stay focused, you could end up surfing all day if you let yourself get distracted.)
4. Get a coach or mentor: This is a longer-term solution, but if you find someone who is where you want to be and knows what you want to know, you could learn from their mistakes.
5. Purposeful conflict: Get together some people whom you know will have an opinion and let them loose on the issue; contribute wholeheartedly, brainstorm and encourage the disagreements - that way, you’ll really think you way round the problem.
6. Have a clear step-by-step decision-making process: First, it’ll give you a hint where to start and second, if anybody questions your decision, you can explain how you came up with it.
7. Review past experiences: Think about similar situations in the past and learn from your experience
8. Do a course: Another longer-term option, but studying can really open up the subject and boost your self-development.
9. Bear in mind the impact of interrupting someone else: Sometimes the answer is just around the comer; if you need help to resist the ‘phone a friend’ option, consider: the average employee spends 28 per cent of their time dealing with unnecessaiy interruptions (2009, Basex); and the time spent per day on interruptions and then having to refocus is 2.1 hours. (2009, Basex.)
10. Trial and error: If all else fails, jump in and see what happens. Two things to remember though: do some ‘what if thinking first; and review afterwards.
11. Find the written guidance or checklist: If it’s a procedural issue it should exist; if it doesn’t, write it yourself.
12. Share what you learn with your team: At team meetings, share useful learning and increase corporate knowledge.
The other point to remember when you think you going to have to pass the buck is the impact on your own reputation.
Be the person who takes the lead and uses their initiative. Keep key stakeholders in the loop (particularly if things change or go wrong) and watch how your self-sufficiency grows.
Angie Spiteri is a business efficiency specialist and principal of Time Equals Money, which offers a range of time management products and services to Perth businesses designed to increase workplace productivity.
Contact Angie on (08) 9302 2803 | 0403 970 732 | www.timeequalsmoney.net.au