Leading the Empowered Organization

One problem seen by many growing technology companies is that managers are involved in decision making at all levels. This phenomenon is sometimes called “micromanagement”. It creates stress on both managers and workers and leads to a lack of agility as an organization. Micromanagement is a symptom of a lack of empowerment. Such a lack limits the ability of a company to make full use of the talent and energy of its workers. Empowerment is a management and organizational style that enables people to practice autonomy, control their own jobs, and use the full sets of their skills and abilities to benefit the organization. Empowering people allows leaders to spend more of their time on important, higher-priority tasks, and facilitates faster and better decision making throughout the company.

To be empowered, a worker must have four attributes: the authority, the responsibility, the capability and the resources to control and execute his/her job.

For a control-oriented manager, the most challenging attribute to grant to an employee is the authority to make important decisions about his/her job. The worker is not really empowered unless he is free to decide how to do his job, and even sometimes make mistakes without harsh retribution. Responsibility means that the person is accountable for the results of her actions and decisions, including disincentives for poor results and rewards and recognition for excellent performance. Of course to be successful, the worker needs to have the knowledge, skills and experience, summarized as the capability, and he must have access to all of the resources needed for the job.

Management is responsible to provide training and assure that the worker has the proper skills, right set of information and capabilities, and any necessary resources at his command to be empowered. It is the responsibility of the worker to identify how much responsibility he can handle and what resources he needs. The worker must also demonstrate that he has the capability to accept the empowerment.

As an example, think of a factory worker - say an assembler. In a traditional, unempowered environment, he simply follows instructions and does the assembly operation the same way daily, maybe getting a little better at it with time. When a non-standard event happens, the worker stops the assembly and looks for a manager to decide what to do next, delaying production.

Now let's empower him. We will tell him to do the job any way he wants and make any improvements he desires within budgetary limits (authority). We will recognize and reward him for productivity and quality, and for any improvements in the assembly process. When a non-standard event happens, the worker takes appropriate action without hesitation and accomplishes the job objectives without losing assembly time.

This example may seem radical and ludicrous, but the authors can attest that it works very well and can produce amazing results in increased productivity, quality and job satisfaction.

A policy of empowerment can improve the leader's ability to develop an inclusive, customer-centered culture in which people feel inspired and rewarded. It creates a work environment that leads to high performance, and enables people to produce dramatic results and change. Fully empowered workers share relevant information in a timely and consistent way and work with team members to suggest new ideas, experiment and take risks.

In a well-managed, empowered organization, the leader removes barriers that limit the ability of staff to act in empowered ways. He/she communicates the vision, goals and overall strategy of the organization with a passion to engage all workers to contribute fully and make the right decisions at every level. The leader deploys new ideas, inspires breakthrough business strategies and leads the change to realize the vision. He or she tracks organizational measures and practices, and influence the entire organization by acting as role a model. Excellent leaders provide direction, ongoing support and feedback required for team members to implement the plan. They give consistent encouragement and reinforcement to each team member, and solve problems in a non-threatening way by using problem solving tools objectively. Finally, they strive for process transparency so that everyone in the organization has clarity as to company goals and the processes in place to achieve these goals.

Thanks to Kunio Hasebe, Principal of TechZecs LLC for help with this blog.