As part of a rebrand, Houston Independent School District’s dining team had to remove its collateral from all 279 school campuses in just 45 days. Instead of having managers tell employees how to complete the hefty workload, Keith Lewis, senior area manager of nutrition services operations, asked his crew of around 15 foodservice attendants how they thought they should complete the task. The employees suggested that the crew divide into two teams and hold weekly recap meetings to share best practices, with the department supplying lunch to maintain efficiency. In the end, the team completed the task within the 45-day deadline. This is just one of the ways Lewis is working to create an environment of ownership for this team. And when a team member’s newfound responsibilities lead to missteps, Lewis doesn’t sweat it.
“From my own experience, I’ve never really learned until I’ve made the mistake,” he says. “I want you to make the decision, own the decision and if there is an issue, let’s sit down and talk about it.” Here’s how Lewis helps team members bounce back from failures.
Trace their steps
When an employee’s efforts don’t go to plan, Lewis sits down with the staff member to review what lead to the misstep. Lewis tells workers to look at the positive impact of the last five decisions they’ve made and what they’ve learned. “When decisions don’t go the way we want, one of the practices I’ve had is to continue to motivate the employee to keep making decisions,” he says. “I tell them, ‘Guess what, you’re not always going to make the right decisions. You have to dust yourself off and try again.’”
Remind them to reach out
Lewis also encourages team members to avoid mistakes proactively. While encouraging team members to embrace asking for advice, he lets them know he does the same thing. “When I type an email, I send it to my assistant and say, ‘Read this and make sure I’m not coming off the wrong way,’” he says. “I tell them there’s nothing wrong with another set of eyes.”
Set team members up for success
To create an environment of ownership—and help avoid failures—directors need to first delegate appropriately. Lewis recommends that managers have a strong grasp of workers’ skill sets, then give them roles tailored to those strengths. “It’s about creating a decision tree,” he says. “Find out who is the root of the tree, the trunk and the leaves, and when all those things work together, you get the fruit that’s growing from the tree. Everything has to work in symmetry.”