The hot air balloon is a strong metaphor for empowerment; you don't have absolute control, but you can guide, oversee, adjust as needed to ensure a great ride. However, if fear dominates your thoughts, you will simply miss a great ride.
Here we go with the Friday Five — “Craig’s Top Five List”.
Empowering employees is supposed to be a valuable strategy: after all, if you didn’t need your fine complement of employees to work to their full capacities, why would you hire them in the first place. Certainly not so they can watch you work. On this premise alone, we can agree that empowerment in “a good thing”. Quite simply, empowerment’s lustre is bloodied because of the casual, random manner in which managers introduce this “most excellent” opportunity. So on this fine Friday, I am offering five practical strategies that can be applied to ensure that empowerment works effectively in your workplace:
Buy-in: By involving your employees in the design of your empowerment initiative, it becomes theirs. The team will always outperform the individual and you will develop a powerful empowerment model. Or you could waste a lot of time and develop your model in secret; your employees will feel that the program is moderated and controlled right from the beginning — not a good start.
Boundaries: Raise your concerns and fears with your employees as you are developing the model; of course, this presumes that they have not demonstrated their competence by already highlighting any red flags that would need a boundary. To assist the high school principal — we met on Monday — overwhelmed by urgent e-mails, what strategy would address his concern? I would suggest three guidelines: (1) empower department heads to deal with staffing issues in their areas; (2) when a need for an absence arises, require all teachers to directly contact their department head by phone (or now text), using the impersonal e-mail only where there is no other option; and (3) have department heads report weekly or even monthly on staffing shortages or the effectiveness/ abuse of the system.
Communication: Communication is your security blanket — it allows you to build confidence in the system. To illustrate this point, I refer to a time years ago when my teenage daughter pressured me relentlessly for a later and later curfew. Loving her as I did and knowing from personal experience that the later a child stayed out the greater chance of some form of crisis, I resisted her approaches. However, through consultation we eventually came up with a compromise that we both found satisfying. Her part of the bargain was a series of boundaries that she would learn and teach to her peers. Her requirement was to communicate these to me and demonstrate that her friends also knew them. Further, it was communication that convinced me that the system was working. In your workplace, you will require feedback in terms of how the system is working and what tangible results are being produced. With this information, you will know what is working and what needs to be fixed. Although your employees may resist, I prefer too much information rather than too little. The success of the model depends on your level of confidence.
Correction: One of the boundaries that I would suggest is quite simply that nothing is cast in stone. Right from the beginning, your staff should understand that the nature and degree of empowerment either to the team or to individuals is subject to change. There are times when changes will be dictated merely by a clumsy model; at other times, changes will be necessitated by poor performance.
Ownership: Empowerment is not a right; it is a privilege. It is earned through performance and accountability to the system and the supervisor. Within this framework, I found that ownership is strengthened when each employee has a piece of the pie. The piece of the pie is determined through individual capacity and performance. In addition to that component of the work that the manager believes the individual can handle, I like to build in just a little stretch — a challenge to grow to the next level. When work is successfully completed, the employee deserves recognition — from you, from peers, from other organizations and from senior management. This sends the message to employees that they are values, not just by you by by the organization. Employees who are recognized will commit more strongly to the empowerment model they have developed with you.
Please let me know what your thoughts are and what experience has been with empowerment.
Another Friday — another “Craig’s Top Five List”. On Monday, we put forth a case for the ongoing value of management and success books. While the current trend in the industry seems to be to discredit these reference materials and fear monger, we argued that the competent manager should understand the opportunities and limitations that come with these materials and include them as part of a package of resources that support a healthy attitude of continuous improvement.
Sabotage in the workplace is rarely as clear as this!
We also reminded readers that workplace sabotage can emerge from the shadows of an organization in many ways, and that pointing the finger at success books is just too easy. So, on this wonderful wind down Friday, let’s talk about sabotage — specifically, five ways that organizations can interfere with their own success:
It Starts at the Top: A true leader understands the importance of building a strong organization and is constantly in search of powerful guidance. Sadly, the American Automobile Industry is a perfect example of a rudderless ship. With countless opportunities to lead the pack, they chose complacency. For example, they were given the opportunity to be the leader in electric automobile technology and they chose to balk at this gift. And now, they are scrambling just to survive. Poor leadership will suffocate an organization; strong leadership will allow an entity to explode with possibilities.
Buy-in, Stay-in: Rightly or wrongly, there will be times in your organization when lower level managers decide to take management matters into their own hands. This will not be an all out mutiny; no, instead, while smiling and nodding support for their bosses, these managers will quietly and secretly begin the process of undermining the initiatives they dislike, in part by treating their area of responsibility as an island. These managers need to understand that disagreement is healthy if it is voiced openly and if it is part of an appropriate consultation process. However, there is also a time for unity of purpose where the team as a whole needs to get on side and offer a plan its best chance of success. It is often difficult for a senior manager to know what is happening on the ground floor. In their eyes if they hear nothing all is well. They need eyes and ears with employees at all levels so they can understand the support or lack of support for their plans.
Silos Belong on Farms: The more we slice and dice our organizations, the lower the unity of purpose. It is not uncommon for units, sectors, divisions to see themselves in competition with each other, largely a result of both managers and their staff seeing their role in the organization as being critical and successful, while the role of others, their “inside” competitors, being performed inadequately to the detriment of the organization. Unifying the organization’s sense of purpose and demonstrating how each role is an essential component of the organization’s mission is a critical responsibility of senior managers.
Communicate- Empower- Communicate- Empower: This is “the circle of [organizational] life”. Managers at all levels who fail to delegate will by definition underachieve. They will waste organizational capacity; they will damage employee motivation, goodwill, loyalty, commitment, happiness and so on. They will undoubtedly lose their best staff. Once managers learn how to empower effectively, they must complete the equation — effective and almost excessive communication. The empowered employee has a responsibility to inform and advise the manager; however, it is contingent upon the senior manager to ensure that an effective and satisfying mechanism is in place. When I say excessive communication, I mean it. This is the tool that allows you to sleep well at night. Because of clear communication, you know with confidence that all is well on the home front.
You are Only as Good as Your Talent: A couple of stories might help to clarify this point. Following the interviews for a senior researcher position, the interview team agreed that no one met the minimum qualifications. “I will cover what the best candidate cannot do” offered one senior manager. I reluctantly agreed and we offered the job to the best of the group. Big mistake! My senior manager was constantly rescuing this employee, time lines were lagging and we lost our capacity to perform effectively. In contrast, an organization hired a salesperson. Their expectations for this position were low based upon the performance of the previous incumbents. In a short time, this newbie demonstrated that she could outperform two people in this area and in fact her area became a significant source of revenue. The manager quickly realized that he could throw a challenge her way and that she would often out produce established areas of revenue for the organization. The stronger the talent, the greater the opportunity, the greater the result.
Flavour of the Month Syndrome: Did I say a list of five? Well, I could not resist offering this one last point. “It’s just the flavour of the month” he lamented, “I’ll just wait it out and before too long everything will be back to normal”. The manager who gets excited about every new management idea will find that skepticism settles into the organization. Employees will soon realize that the manager does not know how to use creative ideas to effect a change in culture; employees will see the initiative as time wasted and give the illusion of buy-in by saying the right things, while only accepting the idea at the margin. The senior manager has the right spirit — one of trying to bring the best to his organization; however, with a little help from other managers, he will complete the loop and carefully assess the value of the idea to the organization and the nature of its implementation.
Have you seen any of these at work in your organization? What efforts were taken to resolve the challenge?