In the race to reduce costs and delight clients, organizations are seeking to develop leaders who empower their employees. By empowering employees, they hope to see decisions made closer to the customer/user, improved response times, higher employee engagement and more time for strategic thinking by managers.
At it’s heart, em-POWER-ment is about the transfer of power to a person or body of people. Creating teams of people who are empowered to run the business means changing the structures by which people are invested with authority and it means those who currently hold power will have to give up some control. This is going to be challenging in a regulatory environment that is increasingly focused on strengthening individual accountability.
Achieving an empowered culture means changes in structures, processes, manager behavior and employee behavior.
Devolving decision making authority means delegating real power, not simply telling people that they are now empowered. How can you be empowered when you cannot approve expenditure above $200? How empowered do you feel when your decision to travel to visit a client requires sign-off by 4 managers in the hierarchy above you before you can book your flights?
At the behavioral level managers need to move away from a “tell” style to more of a coaching style. Since most managers are promoted due to their technical expertise or outstanding performance in a functional area, they find themselves in the position of manager-as-expert. Managers in these situations, without any skills training on how to do it otherwise, tend to tell people what to do, perhaps even how to do it. When the team face challenges and come to the manager with questions it’s likely that he or she answers them. While this gets the job done, it leads to dependency on the manager to think for everyone and stifles the leverage effect of empowering the team to do as much as possible for themselves.
In an empowered culture, every employee needs to be confident and competent to take decisions, solve problems and own the outcome. But not everyone wants this. Phrases like “that’s above my pay grade” illustrate how disempowered many people feel, but also suggest that getting buy-in to the idea of empowering could be harder than you think.
Here are three things you need to do if you truly want to empower your teams:
- Examine and remove the contradictions within your systems and processes that undermine empowerment.
- Teach your managers to incorporate coaching into their management style, especially when things go wrong.
- Support teams through the process of accepting greater levels of devolved power (e.g. developing decision making or problem solving skills).
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