10 Steps to Empowerment 2: Delegating Authority

16 Nov

Many fast food managers hate to delegate authority. Fast food is typically an autocratic environment, with the manager barking orders and the employees droning about doing the manager’s bidding. It becomes tough when more than one manager is on duty, because then you have two people barking out orders to the same employee, and those orders often contradict each other.

The solution is to decentralize the structure a bit, and delegate enough authority to the employees to do their respective jobs without much management interference.

This would scare a lot of managers I’ve worked with in the past. The reason is because many people equate authority with leadership. But authority isn’t leadership. According to John C. Maxwell, leadership is influence, not authority. Authority should be derived from the job responsibilities, not from the manager. As long as the manager exerts his influence over the employees, and they do the job as extensions of him (not in opposition to his wishes), then he is leading them.

Authority should always match the job assigned. I think that cashiers should have the authority to fix a customer problem–provided no money need change hands–and not involve the manager. As long as the customer only wants food replaced, then there is no reason that the cashier can’t ask the kitchen to remake the food in question and waste the food returned by the customer.

I don’t believe in giving the customer the food we’re going waste. Wendy’s used to be big on that, but I think that it encourages people to order incorrectly on purpose, then claim that it was our mistake in order to get two sandwiches. I make a production out of wasting the food. I want people to order carefully in the future. I want them to understand that no one is getting that food now. I might be wrong, because I see merit in the Wendy’s method, too.

There are occasions when I let them keep the mistake. For example, if they came back from their home after receiving a mistake in the drive-thru, I usually let them keep the mistake as an “I’m sorry.” I’ve found in customer service that it is difficult to issue blanket policies–each situation is different and should be handled individually. I’ve often wondered why companies attempt to issue blanket customer service policies, as they inevitably make employees mad because they are never enforced absolutely.

Back to authority. Authority should always match the job. But certain employees should enjoy some more authority as a reward for good performance. Authority is one of the few rewards that a fast food manager can give his employees. We can’t give raises, it’s very hard to vary job responsibilities. But we can grant some additional authority.

One example is answering the phone. I have an employee that answers the phone for me all of the time. She does very well with it. She only messed up once, and that was when she took a call off for the following day but never said anything to anyone. It wasn’t intentional, so it didn’t cost her the authority to answer the phone.

Another example is letting an employee be in charge of making speed of service. I have an employee who would shoulder that burden on her own, trying to coach everyone to move quicker, to keep enough product stocked, and to generally keep on task. She didn’t do very well with it, because she had to break some rules in order to make the time–such as pulling cars forward.

Which brings up the final topic of authority: what to do when someone abuses it. Well, there was a big section in Diane Tracy’s book, 10 Steps to Empowerment, on how to handle the various situations. But I think that the better way is found on page 59 of The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard:

The One Minute Reprimand works well when you:

  1. Tell people beforehand that you are going to let them know how they are doing and in no uncertain terms.

The first half of the reprimand:

  1. Reprimand people immediately.
  2. Tell people what they did wrong—be specific.
  3. Tell people how you feel about what they did wrong—and in no uncertain terms.
  4. Stop for a few seconds of uncomfortable silence to let them feel how you feel.

The second half of the reprimand:

  1. Shake hands, or touch them in a way that lets them know you are honestly on their side.
  2. Remind them of how much you value them.
  3. Reaffirm that you think well of them but not of their performance in this situation.
  4. Realize that when the reprimand is over, it’s over.
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