Shop Owners – Train Your Staff So That They Are Decision Makers

A frequent discussion I have with my consulting clients is that they spend an inordinate amount of time solving seemingly minor problems in their shop.  You know the drill, there’s a problem on press…they come to you.  An order didn’t ship right…they come to you.  A client’s invoice is messed up…they come to you.  Which mesh should we use for metallic inks again?  They come to you.

They come to you for every question under the sun, and you stop what you are doing and answer them each and every time.  Even if your office door is closed and you are in a meeting, someone will stick their head in the door and interrupt with the next crisis.  Why not you ask?  Orders have to ship!!  I’m the boss, and it’s obviously important to get things handled.

Guess what?  All of those interruptions are your fault.  You let it happen by conditioning your staff to not make any decisions and to always come to you for the answer.  However, there is a better way.  Try this phrase the next time a problem is dropped in your lap to solve.

“What would you do?”

The challenge that you are going to find, it’s that either you haven’t supported them enough to be responsible for the problem on their own or they haven’t been fully trained in their position to understand the situation.  By turning the question back to them, you are making them think.  I know that might sound dangerous, but having a thinking and self-sufficient staff is the key to moving at a faster pace, and of course, freeing up time for you to tackle bigger challenges.

“What would you do?” posits the problem with them.  Most of the time, they will have the correct answer.  What if they don’t?  Not a problem, as here’s where you would normally step in with the correct answer.

Here are some tips to use to build a better, more self-sufficient and critically thinking staff:

  1. Build standards and rules in place in each department on how all operational tasks are to be handled.  For example you could, design a mesh count chart for the screen room, write a policy that states that all invoices should go out the day after a job is shipped, or art for jobs needs to be approved two business days before the job is scheduled to be run.  You get the idea.  The more standards you have and training you implement, the easier it will be for your staff to know what to do when situations arise.
  2. Have your department managers really manage.  Meaning that anyone with a question should go see them first.  Your managers should be empowered to make decisions.  If any of your staff circumvents your management staff with a challenge, redirect them to the appropriate manager first before you get involved.  The more you continue to have the final rule on things, the more you are going to be asked these questions.
  3. When outlier challenges emerge that don’t fit your norm, pull your staff together once the dust has settled and discuss the situation with everyone.  What happened, and how did we solve the problem?  Celebrate decision making at lower levels.
  4. Let your staff know its ok to make mistakes.  You have their back.  It’s part of the learning process.
  5. You can also train and set limitations for staff on anything that has a monetary value.  For example, give your customer service reps a $500 limit (or whatever you are comfortable with) to resolve problems for their client without having to ok it with management.  This goes a long way to instantly make your customers happy when challenging situations arise.  They could upgrade the freight, use it for a credit memo, or throw in a free screen, whatever.  Have the rep add some notes to the order under invoicing to justify the decision and move on.
  6. After you ask, “What would you do?” be sure to listen intently and ask good follow up questions.  You may even role play a little bit and pretend to be the client or another department to get them to understand the implications of their answer.
  7. Make decision making part of the performance review process.  Celebrate it in these conversations and discuss the employee’s decision making abilities during the review.  What went well?  What was a problem?  Keep pushing it forward, and give your expectations so that everyone is clear on your objectives.

To sum up, the more that you entrust your staff and train them to make decisions, the more time you are going to have to work on bigger challenges.  After all, you are paying your staff to do this work already.  Critical thinking and brain power is part of their job description too.

Still need help resolving some challenges in this area with your shop?  Shoot me an e-mail at and let me help you raise the bar with your staff.


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