Empowerment Principles

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“Empowerment” is one business capability needed for successfully executing customer focused strategies. If properly defined and implemented, it enables company personnel to take customer focused action, feel a sense of ownership, take initiative, make better, timely decisions, and use their self-motivators creatively, all leading to better business performance.

Even though a lot of companies say they “empower” their employees, it seems there may be room for performance improvement or innovation. That’s why “empowerment” should be the subject of one the “non-product questions” used to find opportunities to improve or innovate the “small things” that companies do to complement and enhance the performance of their products and related services.

The conversation that such a question initiates could, at a minimum, identify the principles that, when followed, get the intended positive effects from of the empowerment capability. For example, empowered individuals:

  • Have the ability to “make and break” rules that govern their activities, allowing them to make judgment calls performing their tasks.
  • Are allowed to make decisions about performing their work – how to do their jobs, when to act, who to talk to and when, and what information is needed and to whom it should be conveyed and when.
  • Don’t worry about failing because their “mistakes” are “idea generators” that take work efforts forward, not backward.
  • Know when they need coaching and training and get it on their own initiative.
  • Are permitted to perform different tasks – ones for which they are hired plus those they take responsibility for (and are capable to perform) to get required work done and “make things happen.”
  • Have the ability to make decisions without approval, meaning they are implicitly making the “right” ones.
  • Aren’t afraid to speak up and know how and when to participate in “tough” decision making activities.

The conversation could also uncover some of what management must do in order create an environment that allows empowerment to thrive. They:

  • Make it clear what “accountability” means – e.g., setting clear performance expectations, rewards that fit operational goals (such as teamwork), and consequences. Accountability is a requirement for “responsibility” to work.
  • Develop clear operating principles (group, team, company, etc.) and clearly communicate them, aligning them with the goals and motivations of team members.
  • Know when their teams need resources (such as company or customer information and accessibility tools) and training programs and make sure the right ones are selected because they seek and use input from their team members.
  • Set and communicate clear visions and goals for the company, projects, and market participation.
  • Co-develop, with team members, and communicate strategies.
  • Make sure everyone understands the company’s customers, their requirements and goals.
  • Exhibit patience to build trust. For example, management lets their team develop and implement ideas even though they think they have better ones.
  • Develop hiring criteria that emphasizes the characteristics they need to make their empowerment strategy work.

Finally, although already implied, the conversation will highlight what empowerment doesn’t mean:

  • The individual professional’s decisions are only right if they’re the ones management would make,
  • How people make decisions or perform tasks are only right if it’s done the way management would do them, and
  • The ideas team members develop are good if they are the ones management would agree with.

It’s up to management to make sure people are prepared to make good decisions, perform well, and develop solid ideas by either being a coach and/or a mentor or know someone who can effectively be one.

These principle lists are not exhaustive but a good start. What they show is that empowerment is more than just “saying it” – it needs preparation and hard work to make it successful. Once in place, it becomes of those “small things” that helps differentiate the company in the market.

Any more principles that will help?

Jonathan Narducci
CornerStone Cubed
Jonathan Narducci, owner of CornerStone Cubed, uses his more than 30 years of experience in business, management and quality systems to help clients design the execution eco-system they need to make initiatives work as intended using his Execution by Design Framework and Process.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Jonathan

    The managerial concept of ’empowerment’ was developed in the 90s through extensive research and practice. Many people mistake it as giving staff carte blanche to do pretty much what they want. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

    Empowerment relies, as you suggest, upon having a common view of a company’s strategic intent, standard processes for regular work and frameworks to guide more irregular work. All this requires extensive training in how work should be done and what to do when something out of the ordinary happens. Empowerment does not mean staff simply making decisions to do standard work in non-standard ways, nor does it mean staff doing work for which others are responsible, as you suggest. And it does not mean doing everything to make customers happy come what may either, as others have suggested.

    We should be careful in defining empowerment so that it is based upon a robust definition that research and practice has shown to work.

    At the end of the day, it is up to management to create an empowerment ‘contract’ with staff and for staff to sign-up to the contract, to step-up to being empowered and to make empowerment work.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. Graham,

    Tank you for the response. I couldn’t agree with you more. You define a couple more principles that can be used to “define” empowerment for the specific strategy a company could develop. I believe in, as you do (garnered from previous posts), that the development and implementation of strategic intiaitives should be based on and guided by “principles.” My intent was to get that concept across for empowerment as well. I’ve read too many “stories” where empowerment was only “lip” service.

    Jonathan Narducci

    CornerStone Cubed
    Building Customer Powered Value

  3. Johnathan

    I have worked on many client assignments where empowerment was an organisation development target. Interestingly, one of the biggest issues I have found in making empowerment work is the unwillingness of staff to become empowered and to take the responsibility for their actions that goes with their authority to decide.

    One of the best examples of successful empowerment is the way that Toyota empowers its staff to act. It is described in detail in Liker & Maier’s excellent book, ‘Toyota Talent: Developing Your people the Toyota Way’.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  4. Graham,

    The issue you state needs the age old quality tool, ask “why” five times. Why won’t they take responsibility? Take the answer and ask why again. etc. The goal is to get to the root cause.

    It’s “conversations,” like asking “why,” that will uncover whether or not empowerment is working as intended or not and, potentially, uncover the missing elements that will improve it or, at least, stop a bad practice (because the company doesn’t want to do the work to make it effective). Without the questioning, empowerment will continue “working.”

    Jonathan Narducci

    CornerStone Cubed
    Building Customer Powered Value

  5. Johnathan

    This is part of what Toyota call Genchi Genbutsu or ‘going to the source (of the problem)’. The trouble is, sometimes the problem is a deep-seated emotional one that is hard to fix with simple management remedies.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

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