Empowerment & Engagement – Part 2 of 2

The Goals of Empowerment and Engagement

The overriding business goals of the “Empowerment” and “Engagement” concepts are much the same as the “delegation” concept that has been promoted in past decades: Better business decisions. Period.

Part 1 of this 2-part Post is available – here.

The Process of Empowering

Our employees want to be engaged; they want to be empowered; in fact, if they have experienced them once, they will forever demand both. You won’t have to force it upon them, they will gladly take it—not because they are power-hungry crazies, but because they want to contribute. Remember that they are capable people trying to do a good job. They want to be empowered because it makes them feel as though the company recognizes them as the valuable asset they know they are truly capable of being. They want to be engaged because, well otherwise they will be disengaged – and that makes for a very long work day, week, month and year. Empowerment and Engagement must be understood by all that are to participate in the process. The concepts and precepts of empowerment and engagement (covered in Part 1 here) will differ depending upon the audience. The needs of the executives differ from the middle manager, supervisor, or the individual contributor. At the crux of implementing empowerment/engagement – flip sides of the same coin is management’s support of the concept. Recognize that there is a strong fear factor at work for those who must buy-in to make these a reality—namely, middle management and supervision (or team leaders/coaches/etc.). The organization may be asking them to change ingrained patterns that have worked over the years. They remain responsible for the overall performance of their area/department but should share the decision-making with their employees. Some may not be too excited about participating in this “experiment” with their careers. Executive management must ensure that risk-taking is never punished, even when the results are disastrous. Accepting and learning from failures is a stretch for everyone. Only a strong, confident management group can put into place a measurement and reward system that uses failure data in nonpunitive ways. Both failures and successes can offer valuable lessons. A celebrated failure may significantly reduce the risks of recurrence. Just as a baby grows into a child, so can empowerment grow from a concept to a well-implemented management style. The process is composed of the following “baby steps” (with apologies to Neil Simon and the 1991 movie “What About Bob?”).  These steps are for those determining how to install a process for establishing empowerment.

Step 1: Look around and Determine where You Are and where You Need to Go

Don’t even roll over yet. Determine where you are and orient yourself. Look for insights. Determine where it is you need to go with engagement/empowerment. Ask the following questions:

  • What is the current situation?
  • What is the current relationship between management and employees?
  • How are most decisions made now?
  • What is our current culture? What barriers can we see that will inhibit our success?
  • Where is our latest management and improvement philosophies now – and what will be implemented in the future? What’s been working, and what hasn’t?

Think about the other plans with which you need to integrate your empowerment efforts.

Step 2: Roll Over (in the Right Direction)

Now that you can more clearly see what you want to do, you need to position your organization to get there. Don’t start moving until you have everything that you may need on this journey. Do you have the preliminary systems for training, the preliminary information systems, and the preliminary reinforcement systems in place? Have you decided upon a consistent message that will facilitate this effort? Do we have the required management buy-in, or do they have questions or unresolved concerns? Will management really participate, or will they only pay lip service to the effort? What will we do if they don’t?

Step 3: Crawl Slowly at First

Explore your surroundings as you begin to move out. Move out slowly. When crawling, midcourse corrections are much easier; there is less momentum to slow down, and efforts are easier to redirect. Plan a few trials or pilot tests. Pick several different processes and/or functions for your tests. Teach the process participants how to define their stakeholders, how to identify their complex sets of requirements, and how to balance out their product/service portfolios to best balance the needs of stakeholders in a manner consistent with the goals of the overall business. Experiment with different engagement/empowering techniques. Measure your progress not for speed, but for effect. Ask for feedback and suggestions and adapt your techniques accordingly. Share your successes and celebrate and reward the efforts of all your failures. Encourage all learning, even that which comes as a result of pain. Sharing success is easy – but sharing failures is a tough sell – but do it anyway. Determine the requirement for infrastructure that changes/adapts. Systems such as policies and procedures, information, appraisal, and compensation may present barriers to the implementation of empowerment. Acknowledge those barriers and disseminate plans for tackling the issues and opportunities. Share the nonsensitive information where you can.

Step 4: Walk (and Talk and Listen, and Walk the Talk and Listen)

Once your testing (crawling) is completed, stand up and pick up speed, but don’t run. Walk slowly, even though like a child you may be tempted to run too soon; patient parents caution against running too fast too soon. But as we all know, much of the learning occurs from the falls, bumps, and bruises. Expand the implementation. Fix the support systems and processes that present barriers. Empower the owners of such systems. Teach them how to define their stakeholders, their complex sets of requirements, and how to balance out their product/service portfolios to meet the needs of all stakeholders in a way that is still profitable for the business. Provide the guidance and support needed without disempowering teams. Tout all of the efforts as you implement empowerment throughout the organization. Demonstrate support via all of your actions. But most importantly, listen and invite feedback. Listen carefully to ensure that you truly understand the message contained in the feedback, and adapt the system accordingly.

Step 5: Run

Once you find that you can walk without too much stumbling, it’s time to pick up speed. This can be done only when you feel confident that you’ll be able to pick yourself up if you run and fall. Try never to let the data from the information systems be used in a punitive manner. Instead, let that data guide you in reshaping behaviors. This is done by providing an appropriate balance of consequences. The following model provides a framework for identifying, sorting, and understanding consequences, whether short or long term, positive or negative. The Balance of Consequences Model Behavior is shaped by known consequences. For example, a baby learns that if he falls on a hardwood floor, he may get hurt. But a fall on a carpeted floor offers a safe and cushioned place to experiment with walking. This is the type of environment needed for empowerment to flourish. In order to establish consequences, you need to understand the consequences with which people are currently living. Use a chart similar to the one below to list the consequences, which currently exist, for whom, and their exact nature. Don’t be surprised when they surprise you. It may be necessary to re-engineer them to encourage and discourage more appropriately.

Behavior or Action Consequences To Whom Matrix Cell
+1 +2 -3 -4

Work to engineer or to re-engineer the “consequence systems” in your real world to obtain a better balance. You may not always be able to remove negative consequences, even though you might like to. What you need to do then is minimize them, or change the balance so that there are more positives from the desired behavior or action than negatives from the undesired. Start your consequence re-engineering work in columns 1 and 2, going from positive short term to long term. Stay away from the cells in columns 3 and 4 as long as possible. But if necessary, focus on the short-term negatives, because long-term negatives just don’t always have the impact required. Overall, accentuate the positive, and rely less on the negative. But acknowledge that there may be a need to provide negative consequences to deter certain behaviors that run counter to empowerment, such as managers who hoard data or make individual decisions. Remember to take things slowly. Walk before you run; crawl before you walk; roll over before you crawl; lie there and observe before you make your first move. It’s an imperfect world with lots of variability. Mistakes are a reality. Increased mistakes are a reality inherent with risk-taking. Risk-taking is inherent with change, and change is the goal of continuous improvement and TQM.

If You Don’t

If you don’t walk your talk – it’s just all talk. And something that can be given lip service by others too – and/or simply ignored. Actions speak louder than words. How you walk, and even stumble and self-correct is important. Model the behavior you wish everyone else to emulate. It’s not about handing out a book and asking everyone to read it – and then “act accordingly!” Your whole world is watching. What are you doing – not – what are you messaging? # # #

2 comments on “Empowerment & Engagement – Part 2 of 2

  1. Pingback: Command & Control & Empowerment | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

  2. Pingback: Empowerment & Engagement – Part 1 of 2 | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

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