In my last blog I discussed the first key, Share Information with Everyone. That was the easy key compared to the next two. Yes I know, you still need to get out of your comfort zone and start sharing all the information.
This blog is about the second key, Create Autonomy Through Boundaries. This and the next key (Teams Become the Hierarchy) are the keys that I feel need a lot of work, especially if your organization is based on decisions that are being made by managers. Then you do have a long way.
Now that you have started to share information with all employees, you will see that they feel more responsible and take ownership, simply because the trust is building and they have a better understanding of the company’s performance and challenges. Next it is time to create boundaries for their decision making. Especially if the teams have not been used to making decisions. They will need to understand what decisions they can make and which they cannot.
A recent example of why this is important. We had a senior level team member who was empowered by a leader to make decisions in his department about a certain project. I am the executive sponsor for the project. We had a catch up meeting to understand where we were currently at and what roadblocks we might have. The team had hired an external consultant to help out. The team member wasn’t sure if the consultant we had hired was the right person for the job so he made the decision to search for another external consultant/company that he felt would be a better fit. He was pretty far in the process when I, as the executive sponsor, discovered the time and effort he had put in to this search after the team had already made a decision. I asked him if that decision was part of the empowerment (since it actually surprised me that he was out looking) and the answer was “I am empowered to run this project”. See, this is why boundaries are important. The team had made the decision to hire the external consultant, however, the leader did not include a hiring and firing decision when he empowered the team member to run the project. There is no blame for the team member that chose to look for a new external consultant since his understanding was that empowerment came with no boundaries. Rather, the leader should have done a better job providing boundaries for this project so that everyone was on the same page.
The difference between a hierarchical culture and an empowered culture
There is quite a difference between a hierarchical culture and an empowered culture. Below you can see some of the key areas. The left is the Hierarchical and the right the Empowered:
Planning vs. Visioning Command and Control vs. Partnering for Performance Monitoring vs. Self-monitoring Pyramid structures vs. Cross functional structures Managers vs. Coaches/Team leaders (we call them Pod Meisters) Compliance vs. Good judgment
Looking at the list, the big question is, who should change? Leaders or Team Members? It is both of course. I actually think that it is more difficult to change the leaders than the team members. Many leaders (and companies, no names, but do a search for large companies and empowerment) think that empowerment sounds cool and they will make a push (possible marketing stunt) stating that they are empowering the employees in their company (first mistake, an empowered company doesn’t have employees but team members). In reality, the leaders of these organizations have a hard time giving up power and focusing on coaching the team.
It is our job as leaders to coach the team members and the team; help the middle managers use the right leadership style; and be there to support and give direction.
When you start the empowerment journey and are creating boundaries within the team, it is important to start with more boundaries in the beginning. As we should have learned from Situational Leadership, it is easier to loosen up than tighten up.
We have boundaries of empowerment and boundaries of hierarchy. The last one is telling people what they cannot do (I do not like that one😊). The boundaries of empowerment is guiding your team members and encouraging them to utilize the smartness and strengths they have to take responsibility. With other words, tell them what the goal is or what they need to accomplish, and have them use their talent to achieve the goal. Don’t be the leader that will say, “do as you are told”, but instead give them the freedom to own their job.
It is important to clarify to the team members, that they are not making all the decisions for the company, especially not to start with. Over time more decision making power will be given. It is a process for the leader and the team.
To start with there are two areas of decisions: Strategic and Operational. All strategic decisions will continue to be the senior leadership team’s responsibility. Several team members can be invited to pods/teams to participate in strategic discussions, but the senior leaders need to set the direction of the company.
When it comes to operational decisions, start slow (depending on where you are in the decision making process) and then slowly add more and more to the team’s decision making as you feel the team is ready.
Finally it is important to give the big picture of the company, so everyone understands where you are heading and what is important. Teach them about the purpose of why we have a business. Explain that we also need to make profit and satisfy shareholders. Share how we create product; what services we are delivering; what needs we are fulfilling for customers; and how do we earn money and so on.
The company is one big puzzle, tell them exactly how their piece fits in the puzzle.
The Team Members have some learning to do
When you start changing to an empowered culture, the team members need to learn to take on far more responsibility allowing self direction in the teams. Therefore training must be an integral part of the program. And dear leaders, if you do the good old trick and pull people out of training because you believe other things are more important, you are wrong! You will not get to the empowered culture without training and everyone time you pull people away from training, you are jeopardizing the progress.
With the power of sharing information and the power of creating autonomy through boundaries, you are now taking significant steps towards the empowerment journey. In my next blog I will discuss the last key, replacing the hierarchy with self-directed teams. All three keys are needed for empowerment to work.