The leaders failing to effectively empower employees do so for three primary reasons:
- The techniques being used are outdated. Yesterday, when change was slower, employees could wait for senior leadership to “make up their mind” and delegate responsibilities. Today, new information is created so fast, many plans have a shelf-life of days. Your employees can no longer wait for you to make the decisions formerly required to empower them.
- The decision making that matters most no longer occurs up-and-down within your organization. The problem solving needed to maximize the flow of value to customers increasing occurs peer-to-peer, horizontally across your organization. It’s old-fashioned leadership to think of empowerment as something you do only for employees below you. The organizations who are succeeding faster have leaders working together to create cultures of empowerment.
- Perhaps the biggest reason why leaders fail at empowering employees: Not long ago if you possessed information others did not, it meant you had power. Today, everyone has access to the same information. Therefore, information no longer equates to power; those who are powerful effectively translate information into applied knowledge.
The saddest part of this evolution of empowerment: Well-intentioned leaders who don’t understand how empowering employees have changed default into thinking (read: blaming) the employee. This results in the employee hiding, getting defensive and wondering, “Why can’t you understand?”
It’s a new era for empowerment. As we share with leaders, it’s effective to think of empowerment as the result of taking two prior actions:
- Create deep alignment across the enterprise. Deep alignment, by definition, requires far more than the “workers” understanding the strategies their bosses have planned. Instead, deep alignment occurs when individuals are operating with high integrity, goals and processes are synchronized to strategies, and high relational capital exists among colleagues.
- Establish protocols for energizing colleagues around a shared reality. Beyond simply sharing data, it’s essential that forums and methods are established for cross-functional peers to draw meaning (knowledge) from the data together.
Executed well, steps one and two evolve from action steps into cultural conditions. As a result, even those employees at the edge of the enterprise possess power to create new value faster for the organization.