Empowerment is a frequently used word, sometimes I feel it is over-used and sometimes we have no clear understanding of what it really means or how we can achieve it.
It is not a magic word, the simplest way to look at it that everyone is coming to work not with the intention to deliberately do something bad. Most people are neutral and only some are positive and wanting to do something good.
This gives us leaders with 2 challenges, one to make increase the number of people who want to do good and the second is to set them to one direction.
Sounds easy… But how am I going do it?
There are clear pillars of engagement and there are multiple ways to make it work. Let’s look at the basics.
- Systems and Processes
People will go for the direction of least resistance. So if you want them to do something, than it has to be made very easy for them to do. You would not expect them to go do hours of training and then take an exam and….. Give them the information what needs to be done, and than give them a process that is simple to do.
For example… You want people to raise ideas to improve processes. You do not want a numbered form to be requested from HR, than filled out properly, submitted to their bosses in person, who presents a tally chart every day…. This will provide you with perfect tracking, but it will not work in your favour to create mass movement. Get forms that explains what needs to be filled out. Get a box of magnets and a whiteboard and have them stick it on…. And make sure you show up at the board regularly.
Similarly, if you are a speaker and you want the audience to ask questions, you can ask your assistants to run around with microphone, and get people to ask… Yes you will get questions, but usually from people who like to show off anyhow. If you want mass participation, put out paper and pens and a box, and before break announce that you will be taking questions from the box which people put in anonymously….. You will get 10 times more questions.
So the message is to make it simple and least painful!
This also a key point. This needs to support what you want to achieve. As the process is there, and simple, you have to make sure that the organization is there to support. Clear roles has to be established, who does what. Also clear goals have to be set for everyone, what is their role in achieving the goal. Maybe tie some incentive to it, portion of salary, bonus, prize… Money or prizes always work their magic. We as humans are kids forever. We love to play. It is quite fascinating how far a Mars bar takes you as a prize. Costs nothing, value in achieving a goal, priceless.
So back to our previous examples. If you want to generate ideas, your organization needs to be aligned. First of all the people have to be supported by their peers and managers to bring forward the ideas. There has to be a guru or referee (expert) who helps people to figure out and navigate in the new world. The managers have to be incentivized to push the people to bring the ideas. Other functions have to be held account to make sure the best ideas are implemented, so it shows the people that it is worth to bring up ideas.
And you as a leader have to show that you care!
If anything makes something work, than this is the most critical element. We as leaders always complain on how people should behave and how they do not. Guess what, who’s fault is it… Yours. Why? When you point at someone, look at your hand, only one-finger points to the other person, three fingers point to you.
So what are the three fingers?
First finger: Above all, you as a leader and your leadership team have to show that you care. You have to be talking about it, be curious about it, and package it into every communication. So people see you care.
Second finger: You have to do it yourself. Whatever you expect, you have to show and also communicate how you do it. Better yet, you join your people doing it. Raising improvement ideas, make sure your ideas are posted on the board of the teams. Go there, find something you would find anyhow, take the time to put it on the card and stick it to the board…. And follow up.
Third finger: Praise and penalise. Highlight people who do it well, and tell them off if they do not do it. People will learn from immediate positive or negative feedback. Positive better, if all else fails negative is also required. Make sure it is clear that it is not OK not to follow the new requirement.
It is not difficult, it just takes concentrated effort and time to create empowerment and also create change in any organisation. Keep up the good work!
Enjoy the ride and deliver the benefits!