Many large companies want to promote a culture of empowerment but what does that really mean?
In a small company or start-up you often truly are empowered to act beyond your boundaries. In fact it goes beyond that, you’re responsible for acting fast.
Chances are if you don’t pick things up that need dealing with, either someone else will and leave you feeling distinctly mediocre or your team or company will suffer. Either way, the culture of empowerment in small companies transforms into shared accountability.
In a large corporation, does this really still work?
Whilst we may think this is a problem with corporate culture, it actually depends most on individual managers.
In a traditional hierarchical organization, telling your management staff that their teams are empowered sounds very noble and supportive but in reality it’s seen more like abdicating support. Pushing empowerment at this level usually means you want something done for free with no risk to yourself.
There’s a difference between staff being told they are empowered and actually being empowered. In fact, as a senior manager; empowering your staff requires you to make it safe for your teams to act. One great way to do this is to lead by example.
In a conversation with Dan North early last year, his quip really stuck with me…
“You are anointed with empowerment, go forth and be empowered.”
Here’s what’s often hidden behind the words…
- There’s an approval process you need to go through beforehand.
- When you’re done, I want a full report with metrics on my desk and a 1 slide PowerPoint summary for the executive team.
- Here’s a catalog of things you can’t do or touch and people you can’t speak to.
- Don’t screw up or it’s your ass on the line.
Let’s break that mindset…
First, take a look at your constraints. What things are you really not allowed to change. Probably nothing - as long as you can demonstrate something better.
Sadly, most of us have a mortgage and/or family to sustain, a career to maintain, are on the line for getting stuff delivered and are way over-stretched. That’s not a very empowering position.
Truly empowered people are able to take calculated risks and perform valuable actions that they know are the right thing to do, they ask for forgiveness & approval later if needed and most of all, they have their manager’s unflagging support, even when they fail.
As a Manager, don’t abdicate your responsibilities to your teams; give them the tools and safety they need to really be empowered so that they can make a difference and feel supported in doing so.