Empowerment

by Phil Manington

First steps

Change takes but an instant. It’s the resistance to change that can take a lifetime.

Hebrew proverb

First and foremost, you need to remember that you are asking people to change their behaviour. This can be difficult and it will usually take a lot of time and consistent effort on your part.

The details given here may need to be modified, depending upon the situation, but the overall process will provide a useful framework for success.

Step 1: Gather information about current behaviour

  • Observe people in meetings (formal and informal) and notice how they behave. Are they happy and enthusiastic or always complaining or arguing, often criticising management?
  • To pick up patterns of behaviour, undertake unstructured interviews with employees with differing levels of experience.
  • Carry out group interviews (notice differences in behaviour when someone is in a group or on their own).
  • Review existing material, such as employee satisfaction surveys.
  • Review policies, procedures and systems. Are these fair, open, consistent and evenly applied, particularly as regards pay, recruitment and promotion? These are the written formal rules that will encourage or discourage empowered behaviour.

Step 2: Assess the current position

Use the information to determine existing patterns of behaviour:

  • Do people take the initiative or wait to be told what to do?
  • Will they help others or say ‘that’s not my job’?
  • Are they willing to admit it when things go wrong or do they try to cover up mistakes?
  • Do they co-operate or compete against others?
  • Are people flexible or resistant to change?
  • Do they talk about how good the company is or complain about poor management?
  • Do they talk about the company vision?
  • Are people keen to take training and development opportunities?
  • Do they feel able to give constructive criticism to managers?
  • Is there a sense of mutual respect across teams?

Beliefs

Behaviour is driven by our beliefs and values. What can you infer from the behaviours you have observed? For example, people who wait to be told what to do may hold certain beliefs:

  • It’s management’s job to tell me what to do
  • I’m not paid to come up with ideas
  • They don’t like you taking the initiative
  • I’ll only get told off if I do the wrong thing.

So you will need to find what particular beliefs your people hold. These are the unwritten rules that govern behaviour and, with the systems and procedures you have already identified, provide you with a picture of what you need to change.

Step 3: Establish where you want to go

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to’ said the cat.

‘I don’t much care where’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go’ said the cat.

‘So long as I get somewhere’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that’ said the cat ‘if you only walk long enough.’

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Knowing what you want is hugely important. This might seem obvious, but it is surprising how many people don’t set goals, either for their lives or their work. Setting and achieving goals is motivating and will build your confidence so that you go on and achieve even more.

The process of setting goals is as important as the result itself. It helps you think through where you want to go and what you want to do. And this will tell you where you need to concentrate your efforts. You will also be able to spot any distractions that might take you off course.

If you want to be successful, write down what you want to achieve. And, if you want to be a successful manager, write down your vision in a way that everyone in your team can relate to. Otherwise, you will find that your people will all pull in separate directions – driven by what they want rather than what you want. You need them to feel empowered, but also to act consistently, in line with your goals. To achieve this, they must share your goals.

Moments of truth

‘Moments of truth’ is a concept that was introduced by Jan Carlzon, former president of Scandinavian Airlines. The idea is that whenever a customer makes contact with the organisation, in whatever form, there is a moment of truth, when some kind of impression is formed.

Every day there are thousands of moments of truth and each has a positive or negative outcome. Each is so minor that it may seem almost insignificant, but every moment of truth is like a grain of sand placed on a set of scales. Over time, the scales start to tip in one direction or another – and the direction determines what sort of culture is built and what sort of reputation the company gets.

Carlzon’s vision was that Scandinavian Airlines would be renowned throughout the world for excellent customer service. He translated this grand vision into something everyone in his organisation could relate to. His idea was that every member of staff would focus on their personal moments of truth with their own customers (whether these were external customers or colleagues in the organisation) and aim for each one to have a positive outcome in their customer’s eyes. This was the beauty and the power of Carlzon’s approach. Everyone in Scandinavian could understand his vision and could see very easily how they could contribute – what they personally could do to turn it into reality.

Examples of moments of truth for an airline are

The job of a good leader is to articulate a vision that others are inspired to follow.

Lorraine Monroe of The School Leadership Academy
  • When you call to make a flight reservation
  • When you arrive at the airport and look for the check-in desk
  • When you check in
  • When a plane is delayed
  • When you sit down and first notice the state of the plane cabin
  • When the food and drink is served.

From this simple concept, Carlzon took an airline that was failing and turned it around to become one of the most respected in the industry.

Creating a vision to inspire your team

What would a moment of truth – a moment when everyone feels empowered – look like in your team? Below are some suggestions.

Keep true; never be ashamed of doing right. Decide on what you think is right, and stick to it.

George Eliot
  • When you express an opinion that someone disagrees with, they feel able to put forward their own views.
  • When a customer has a complaint, someone takes the initiative and resolves the issue, even though it’s not their job.
  • When someone makes a mistake, they openly discuss what’s gone wrong, identify learning points and take action to improve so that it doesn’t happen again.