Every manager has to undertake a tricky task of teaching employees to make the right decisions, the ones that will be profitable for the business. As my team was growing, I also came to realize I had to delegate responsibility. I don’t like to be micromanaged — so I don’t micromanage my team. My job is to lead people, not to be a bottleneck. I was lucky that Skyeng is all about principle-based decision-making; this is what makes an annual growth of 200% possible. I only had to take those corporate principles, or rules, and apply them to my field of commercial products. I’ll talk about my rules in this article.
Any business operates to make money. Estimate the monetary value of a decision to see whether or not it is profitable. Money is a universal unit of measurement that helps to compare decisions, prioritize projects and be sure that you made the best decision. I am convinced that you can estimate the monetary value of anything — it’s not as difficult as it sounds. You have to always ask yourself, “Will I make a profit? Is it worth the resources spent?” By using this rule we don’t make unjustified decisions. The more difficult a decision, the better it has to be justified. It’s better to take extra time to think that to take a reckless action with a thought “Why not?”
How our team achieves the goal is not important to us. What we care about is the result even if it is achieved through unconventional ways. It gives our employees the freedom to think and be creative. Quite often the biggest difficulties lead to the biggest breakthroughs. Our team can and even have to re-create the established processes and make them better. If someone knows how to achieve the goal faster and more efficiently, they have to advocate for the change, to demolish the old processes and build new ones.
However, it’s important to keep a balance. Let’s say we want to reduce the cost of customer acquisition. We can fire the whole sales department, it will make the process cheaper. But it will also cut the conversion rate. The lower conversion rate will do more harm than the reduced acquisition cost will do good. We will technically achieve our goal, but the company won’t benefit from it. That’s why it’s important to use Rule #2 together with Rule #1 and estimate the monetary value of a change.
In 2017, we ran a complete makeover of our website’s front page. It took two months and up to six stakeholders. Along with that, there were many interested people who wanted to give tips. Obviously, we couldn’t consider and use all the advice as the whole process would take forever. We did not have time for that. That’s when we came up with this rule together with the rule to implement new processes if it helps to achieve the goal (see Rule #2). We made a draft and presented it for discussion. While people were giving their ideas, we were already making the next version, not considering the current comments. We implemented the revision with a lag of one version or didn’t implement them at all. It wasn’t our goal to consider all the comments, our goal was to make a good front page. For really big decision we took a break and said, “Ok, guys, you have 24 hours to comment if you want to see your revisions in the next version.” Thanks to that, only people who were really interested in the project got to make a decision. We cut all the unnecessary communication regardless of the participants’ positions and made a new front page with a considerably better conversion rate before the deadline.
Science tells us that moving is living. I beg you to live at work. There shouldn’t be moments when you sit at your desk and don’t know what to do. This leads to procrastination. A stall can occur due to external or internal reasons. If an employee hesitates what decision to make, it’s better to make any, get feedback and try again. The iterative approach makes all the doubts disappear. If it takes anyone — me, your manager, your counterpart from another team — more than 24 hours to make a decision, you can make it yourself without approval. The person involved had enough time; if they didn’t use it, it was not that important to them.
What if you make a wrong decision? You definitely will. That’s why we came up with the next rule.
It may sound odd, but to make mistakes is crucial. I always encourage my team to make mistakes as that’s how they can get experience. That’s how I learned. Sometimes I see that someone from my team is going to make a mistake and I don’t warn them letting them make this mistake. The next time they won’t wait for me to guide them and will trust their own knowledge and intuition. This way employees become more independent and make better decisions. But sometimes it turns out that the employee was right and I was wrong! That’s what I enjoy the most, realizing that I hired someone with more competence than I have.
However, making mistakes can lead to fast growth and better results only in case when each mistake is thoroughly analyzed, conclusions are made and the rules and principles are amended. I keep close tabs on that.
With great freedom comes great responsibility. Employees can decide whether they want to manage, make decisions and take risks or to do their job and let me take all the risks. Both positions are ok, it’s the matter of preference. Each employee is important. But if someone chooses to risk and then makes the same mistakes over and over again (which means that he or she does not learn), he or she will be fired. If you don’t reach your targets, you’re fired. If you don’t follow the principles, you’re fired. If you stall, you take unimportant projects. If you earn a profit, you grow fast and work on the most interesting and creative projects. Career lifts can take you either way; you can go up or down very fast depending on how much profit you earn for the company. This rule applies to everyone at the company, from specialists to co-founders.
At all times. If you make a decision in a private chat, it’s a bad decision. Share information honestly and openly, especially if your decision involves risk. The greater the risk, the more you need to share. It helps you to get feedback even before you make a mistake (yes, it’s better not to make some mistakes despite Rule #5). Your colleagues can see overlooked flaws in your plan. When you work alone or in a small team, it’s easy to lose touch with reality. But when you share information, you can get a heads-up from a more experienced or just more attentive colleague much faster than you could spot a mistake yourself.
Every new hire has to learn and follow our rules. But they are not set in stone. Rules exist to help make better decisions, not to limit your freedom. If you follow the rules and get a negative result, it’s great! I hope you share it with the team. It gives you an opportunity to make the world around you slightly better, even if it’s just a tiny rule. Not only people need to constantly grow and change; rules for decision-making need to grow and change too.
When you travel on the speed of light, it’s hard to keep everything under control. Sometimes our test servers fail. According to Rule #3, we don’t wait for them to be fixed and release projects with no testing. We can implement such a risky process, thanks to Rule #2. Of course, it can result in system fails, from which we learn according to Rule #4, and we are not afraid of these fails as we’ve estimated their monetary value according to Rule #1. We accepted the responsibility for such mistakes according to Rule #5 and informed everyone openly according to Rule #6. I’m sure that the day will come when our rules will no longer be effective and we’ll have to change them. It’s good we can do it thanks to Rule #7. Rules don’t give you more control but help achieve better results for less effort. And the free time you’ll have can be invested in personal growth.
by Denis Pushkin, head of Commercial Products at Skyeng company
Also published here.