Does Everyone Know They're Empowered?

I’ve just finishing reading The Decision Maker based on a recommendation in Kate Matsudaira’s blog post. Highly recommend it as a means of helping anyone understand the benefits of empowerment and the stumbling blocks you’ll experience along the way. Being fiction it is easy to read and remember the message it delivers.

It got me thinking about the smells that indicate we’re not doing all the right things to make our new way of working stick.

Let’s take a look in terms of empowering people.

We’re Empowered? No one told me

The first mistake can be in assuming everyone knows about it. We need to explicitly make people aware they’re empowered. Doing this as a one time policy launch is not sufficient. New people join and people forget. Our values and culture need to be part of the induction programme, they need to be visible in one accesible, location where people can go and see them. They need to be explained in a simple, succinct way so people take time to listen and understand what it means for them.

Empowerment that’s just a way of making more money for the company

Empowerment might seem like a no brainer to us, bringing benefits to the company and its people but if it is not communicated properly and sincerely people could be skeptical. It might be clear to us that empowerment is good for employees in terms of job satisfication, growth and assuming responsibility. Just because we know that doesn’t mean everyone else does. The value needs to be made explicit rather than assuming everyone gets it. People need to know why the company is doing it and what it means for them.

Empowerment allows people with no leadership experience to make decisions. How can that be good?

Everyone will not automatically buy into a decision. To assume they will is naive and to give up on them because they don’t instantly get it can be a waste of talent. Imagine if you’ve worked hard to get to the point where you are leading a team and suddenly you’re told to let your team make some of the decisions you’ve been making. You might feel afraid of losing power or wonder what you’re role is. For a newly graduated employee you might feel you’re not ready to make decisions, unsure if you have the knowledge and experience. Do you think the first can’t be a team lead anymore or the second has no drive and is a waste of effort? No, at least not initially. Change is scary especially if you’ve been comfortable with the state of things before the change.

We need to recognise the blockers to people getting on board and address them by helping coach them past what is holding them back. Some people may never get onboard and in that case it may be time for them to move on. For many showing you care enough to take time to understand and work through their concerns will be enough to make them change and convince them of the sincerity behind the change

I don’t see anyone else doing it

The idea of empowering people needs to be more than a sentence somewhere. It must be visible in the day to day life of the company. Examples of it need to be made visible to others to help spark ideas of their own. People need to see those who seize being empowered and make positive changes rewarded. Seeing the benefits it brings to others will inspire them to get involved.

Great I’m empowered but how do I make a good decision?

We want people to innovate and make decisions that bring value to the company. Giving advice on how to go about making a good decision does not hinder it as long as it is light weight. Encouraging people to sound ideas off others, seek advice from people with different specialities and being explicit about how to get budget and equipment encourage good decision making and do not stiffle creativity. Guidance can be useful in reassuring people they are making the right move and make them aware of the resources in place to help them. People need to know who to go to if they have queries round how to go about it.