THE “HOW” OF EMPOWERMENT
The second in the four-part series on empowerment focuses on the “how.” If my last blog sold you on the “why,” I’m sure you’re on the edge of your seat, awaiting a simple three-step process on how, exactly, to empower, motivate, enthuse and engage your team. Unfortunately, like anything else worth accomplishing, it is easier said than done. I will, however, share a few thoughts and insights with you as you begin your journey.
First, you must start with people who WANT to be empowered, but this will be covered in the next blog on “when” the empowerment process begins. Once you’ve surrounded yourself with a team of people willing and able to handle the responsibilities that come along with being empowered, the first step is clarity.
CRYSTAL CLEAR EXPECTATIONS
In order to truly empower versus assigning projects that you micromanage from afar, the two key areas that need to be clearly articulated are 1) the vision and 2) the deliverables. An empowered team can then focus on the strategy and tactics necessary to deliver. For example, the vision might be to create a proprietary SaaS platform that solves a specific problem for a set of customers, while the deliverable might be a fully operational beta test in 3 months with a go-to-market product in 6 months. Once that’s clearly articulated, team empowerment then needs to set the strategy for exactly what the platform offers, determine the key functions, output and reporting to attract clients, identify prospective customers, identify/hire developers, project management, timeline development, etc. The team needs latitude to explore, learn and strategize, so hovering over them will only make them feel less empowered and ultimately less responsible. Regular status updates are important in order for leadership to course-correct along the way to ensure the optimal results.
When a team lacks accountability for their work product, leadership is almost always the culprit. Someone who doesn’t take personal ownership for his or her work either isn’t being allowed to take responsibility because of too much management interference or the company culture doesn’t demand accountability. Many managers need to be taught to let go; quite often they rose from the ranks of doers into managers and have a hard time trusting that someone else can deliver the same caliber of product that they can. A solid senior leadership team and/or outside management training can help empower management to empower their staff.
CUT THE CORD
There are often multiple correct decisions in work situations, so managers need to look for a range of acceptable choices versus what they would have done. My personal 80/20 rule for empowerment says that once an employee is delivering quality work 80% of the time, it’s time to pull the safety net. A standard question managers who are being requested to review work should ask prior to engaging is, “Is this your best work or is this a draft?” If you find your staff claiming things are in draft form a lot, it’s time for some soul searching because you might be one of those “culprits” I mentioned. When a manager has a reputation for always coming in with the red pen, staff can become disengaged because nobody wants their best work getting slashed like a blond in a horror movie. So they only take the work as far as they have to in order to present management with a starting point. This could be a problem created by management by stripping ownership from people who might otherwise have embraced it. Knowing their boss isn’t going to be blessing their work usually compels people to double or triple-check their product. Other times, it might really be their best work but they’re afraid to admit it. Either way, the answer is the same: “Go back and give me your best so I can assess where you are strong and where you still need my support.” A funny thing happens when you implement this strategy: you stop getting as much crap on your desk, you raise the expectations and ultimately, empower.
If you cut the cord at 80% accuracy, the downside is that 20% of the time mistakes will occur. Use smart judgment to assess the risks associated with letting go of certain projects, but accept that we tend to learn our most important lessons through our failures, not our successes. Allowing a team member to fail at something is one of the best gifts a manager can give their staff and themselves, as it promotes growth and can provide good insight into their future potential within the organization. Observing how someone reacts when they make a mistake can say a lot about whether they truly take accountability for their actions. It also gives a peek into how they might react as a manager someday. Someone who is quick to blame others versus introspectively looking for opportunities for their own development probably isn’t learning enough from the situation to ensure that the mistake won’t happen again.
Because this is a blog and not a book, this is enough for today. Next week we move on to “when.”