Saturday 6 July 2013

Empowering employees is a two way street. Here is a formula that will help :: E=(C+A+W)

Employee empowerment is used to characterise those steps or actions that employees (typically lower in the organisational hierarchy) can take without having to seek the approval or authority of their manager The basic premise is that give the employee some rope (‘lee-way’) and hope that he or she is able to take initiative and solve problems while improving service rather than end up hanging themselves with the rope (metaphorically of course!).
It is a function of how much trust an organisation is willing to delegate down or push down the organisational hierarchy to speed up the decision making process for those activities that can impede or reduce customer experience and satisfaction. Speed of issue resolution and how an issue is resolved can actually have a positive impact on customer satisfaction despite an event having occurred that was negative. Remember that a negative incident can occur (as it is usually out of our control) but how we respond to the same (is in our control) and how efficient we are is usually what a customer remembers and talks about! Extending this logic the concept of employee empowerment then is about giving power to an employee so that they make the right choices in how they go about doing their day to day tasks. However, it is critical to mention that I also believe that attempting to focus only on empowerment without understanding its place in competitive positioning or how it connects with the strategy of the organisation is fool-hardy. As Bob Thomson cautions – “Empowering employees in a business model that isn't competitive won't make the business competitive. You still have to deliver products and services that customers want, do it better and faster than competitors and manage costs. Empowerment is not a panacea.”
I notice that most employee empowerment initiatives are based on the stance that an organisation had to take the lead in empowering its employees. The simplistic premise is that empowerment is something that you give to an employee. So I watched as organisations created frameworks and guidelines to create a sense of empowerment that was supposed to create employee engagement .
The reality is that empowerment is a two way street. An organisation can take the stance that it is empowering its employees and doing it with the customer in mind but it is also incumbent on employees to want to be empowered.
Empowerment is a complex formula. It works with the equal participation of both employer and employed.
As I thought about this, I wanted to leverage a simple formula that will help in thinking about employee empowerment in a different way.
E = (C+A+W)
Empowerment = Capable + Allowed + Willing. The brackets denote within constraints or limits or boundaries. Let me elaborate on this formula.
Capable means that the employee has the capacity or ability i.e. is efficient and able to accept the responsibilities that empowerment bestows upon him or her. This then turns the focus on the state of readiness and maturity of the employee in delivering on the intent of the organisation that has chosen to empowering them. How many times have I seen managers wonder why empowerment does not work and keep tweaking their programmes without realising that the employee’s capability was not developed or was part of the empowerment strategy. Developing employee capability is critical in this formula.
Allowed means that the employee has been formally given the power and ability to operate and maneuver to deliver against the empowerment mandate given to them. This is typically the one element of this equation that most organisations have got right as this is a non-employee oriented variable and typically supported by written policies and reward mechanisms to encourage activities that support the process of creating empowerment.
Willing means that the employee is ready or eager or prepared to deliver on the expected outcomes of any empowerment given to them. This is a surprising element and one that does not get a lot of focus by organisations or managers who are taking steps or undertaking programmes to promote empowerment. There are employees that are capable; are allowed but are not willing. I learnt this the hard way in many of my interactions with employees and then realised that there needs to be conscious focus on this aspect as well. True willingness comes if the organisation has done everything in its power to encourage mistakes and celebrate failure. What good is an empowerment drive that no employee is willing to subscribe to as either the rewards are not there or the punishments far outweigh the rewards. Focus on mechanisms to create willingness on the part of employees to embrace the activities that constitute employee empowerment. 
() i.e. the bracket used in this equation was used to denote that empowerment has to be within reason. There are parameters to what an employee can do when being empowered. It is critical to design limits that are clear and ensure that the employee knows the boundaries that they can operate within. This limits surprises and also ensures that the employee is better able to manage expectations as they know what they can and cannot do.
On surface what appears to be simplistic formula is actually a potent formulation to ensure that when thinking about employee empwerment we look at this from the perspective of not only the organisation or the customer but very importantly also from the perspective of the employee. After all there is a reason why the word 'employee' appears in employee empowerment!
What do you think?


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  1. find interesting and formulae seems ok, not sure how many coys will get there. my experience is that most of corporates are no where to use internal innovation, new ideas, ideas to make things better.
    an important reason for this is that the majority of management in corporates are there because of time of service, or one of the boys, or of non-conflict nature.
    Nothing grows or changes without pain. there is very little recognition given for new/better ideas

    like to hear other views

  2. Appreciate your approach but would like to mention that from my point of view there is an error in the formula. (CAW) would translate into C by A by W. From my understanding you would rather mean C plus A plus W.
    Then it should be phrased E=(C+A+W).

    1. are mathematically made the changes to the formula to reflect the same....thanks for your input...

  3. Deepak, when we worked in Sun, i experienced the above formula, and the real EMPOWERMENT.

    To have this successfully executed, the Managers should be having real stuff and totally secured. Good one !!