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THE 3 KEYS TO EMPOWERMENTRelease the Power within People for Astonishing Results
By Ken Blanchard John P. Carlos Alan Randolph
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2001 Blanchard Family Trust
All right reserved.
Chapter OneReleasing the Power within People
Empowerment. Can it work for you, or is it just another buzzword for the ages? We believe that empowerment (which we link with team member involvement, ownership, responsibility, proprietary interest, and pride) is crucial for companies to be competitive in today's business world and certainly in the world of tomorrow. Literally, for companies to succeed in the new world of business, team members must feel that they own their jobs and that they have key roles. And many of the most successful and admired companies in the world agree.
WHY MAKE THE EFFORT TO CHANGE TO EMPOWERMENT?
A variety of external challenges have paved the way for forces of change to bombard people and their organizations from all sides. First, customers have developed very high expectations regarding quality, price, and service. The feeling is that if your company cannot meet their needs, they will find another company that can. Second, these pressures from customers must be managed in light of the need to remain profitable. There is always the danger of providing what the customer wants while undercutting margins to the point of risking company viability. Third, the forces of change brought on by global competition, new technologies, and customer mind shifts mean that whatever was outstanding last year may be ordinary this year. The bar is continually being raised, and unless your company and its people can jump over it, a competitor will gladly take your place. Fourth, the members of today's work force are quite different from those of the past. They have a tremendous potential for growth and development but an impatience for controlling their own destinies. There is an ongoing need to create greater trust between team members and leaders so that people can and will put forth their best efforts to act with responsibility in a context of freedom and so that leaders can and will allow their team members to act with responsibility and freedom.
Creating a culture of empowerment is not easy—it means acting with strength in the face of adversity while living with a delicate balance of responsibility and freedom. But once you start down this path to empowerment, there really is no turning back, unless you wish the forces of change to overwhelm you and everyone else in the organization. To make matters even more challenging, the compelling internal forces for change leave leaders and team members with no choice but to consider empowerment.
As we have worked with clients over the last few years, we have learned that the old deal between companies and their employees has changed. No longer does loyalty guarantee job security. During the 1950s, if someone took a job with a Fortune 500 company he or she was "set for life." Is this true now? Of course not! Some of the biggest layoffs have occurred at some of the biggest companies. But layoffs do not guarantee company success. So what is the new deal?
When asked what they want from people today, leaders almost universally respond, "We want people who are problem solvers, who take initiative, and who act like they own the business." What they are saying is that they want empowered people. But what about the team members; what do they want in the new deal? When we ask these people, they respond, "We want honesty. Tell us the truth about how our company is doing; we can handle it and we can help improve the situation. In addition, we want to learn new skills that will not only help us here but we can take with us if we have to look for another job." What they are saying is that they want a new deal for involvement. They want to be empowered.
WHAT IS EMPOWERMENT?
In many ways then, leaders and team members want the same thing—empowerment. Indeed, empowerment is a cutting-edge "technology" that provides both the strategic advantage companies are seeking and the opportunity people are seeking. It is the means for involving team members as business partners in determining company success or failure (which today is defined as being simultaneously customer driven, cost effective, fast and flexible, and continuously improving).
Empowerment can assist any leader (who is willing to make some key changes) tap the knowledge, skills, experience, and motivation of every person in the company. Leaders who empower people are placing additional responsibility for results on the team members. That is right: empowerment is not soft management. But even though it places high expectations on people, team members embrace empowerment because it leads to the joys of involvement, ownership, and growth. Unfortunately, too few leaders and team members understand how to create a culture of empowerment.
While giving people the authority and responsibility to make important business decisions is a key structural aspect of empowerment, it is not the whole picture, as some leaders mistakenly think. The real essence of empowerment comes from releasing the knowledge, experience, and motivational power that is already in people but is being severely underutilized. In hierarchical organizations using more traditional "command and control" management practices, the organization's human resource capacity is only partially tapped, perhaps at 25 to 30 percent of capacity. And we all know what would happen if equipment was utilized at only 25 to 30 percent of capacity. The company would suffer greatly and management might have a short career, indeed. Why should we accept the same low capacity utilization from people? Empowerment can help every leader increase the performance capacity of people in any organization.
DOES EMPOWERMENT REALLY WORK?
A valid question to ask is, Does empowerment really work? In an era when competition is fierce, any company that cannot produce at a lower cost, with better quality, and at a faster pace than its global competitors may soon be out of business. At the level of team members, the result will be loss of jobs, with more work piled on those who are left behind. Leaders will feel the stress of producing more with fewer people and with a wider span of control. It is for these very reasons that the traditional management model of "the manager in control and the employees being controlled" does not work. What every leader is seeking is solutions to make his or her job—achieving results with fewer resources—easier. At the same time, team members are searching for job security, ownership, and a renewed sense of pride in their work. We believe firmly that empowerment is a significant part of the solution to these issues.
In the book Employee Involvement and Total Quality Management, Ed Lawler and his colleagues in the Center for Organizational Effectiveness at the University of Southern California support this conclusion. They report that when people are given more control and responsibility over their jobs, companies achieve a greater return on sales (10.3 percent) than those companies that do not involve people (6.3 percent). One of our clients in the mature retail food industry found that annual sales growth increased from 15 percent to 26 percent; sales per store increased 10 percent per year, while the number of stores increased almost 100 percent and overall sales volume increased in excess of 500 percent over eight years. Another client in the engineering services industry has used better information sharing and a team approach (two of the keys to empowerment) to reduce project execution costs by 40 percent, while maintaining high quality work. Indeed, empowerment works for those leaders and companies that make the effort to change.
HOW HARD IS IT TO MOVE TO EMPOWERMENT?
Far more companies talk about empowerment than practice it. Too many leaders think that if they and their people want empowerment, it will "just happen naturally." Nothing could be further from the truth. The change is too fundamental and involves replacing many old habits with new habits. To change to empowerment takes an understanding of what empowerment really is, knowledge of key action steps, and a dedicated effort. According to Lawler and his colleagues, even companies that use empowerment programs involve less than 20 percent of their workforce. And our experience suggests that many companies start an empowerment effort only to stop the journey somewhere during the process of change, thus feeding the belief that empowerment is just another "flavor of the month." Indeed, empowerment is not as easy to create as it first appears.
The main reason empowerment is "easier said than done" is that managers often think that all they have to do to empower people is to "give team members the authority to make decisions or to mandate a change in behavior." By so doing, leaders believe they are giving people the freedom to act. At the same time, they often perceive a reluctance by team members to be held accountable for decisions they make. Team members say they want control over decisions and involvement, but they think that leaders add constraints that inhibit their taking responsibility. The vast majority of leaders unintentionally do not provide an adequate mix of knowledge, information, power, and rewards to create a culture in which people can become empowered. Nor do they change the way in which team members' performance is measured. And people are not automatically prepared to take on the challenges of being empowered. They often think they want to be empowered until they learn what it really means in terms of the changes they as team members must make.
The source of these difficulties lies in the tremendous shift in thinking that is needed by both leaders and team members. Empowerment challenges many of the most basic assumptions about organizations that leaders and team members have come to accept as fact. The kind of thinking that led to individual and corporate success in the past is no longer valid in the world of empowerment. Attitudes, behaviors, practices, and ways of relating must change for an organization and its team members and leaders to become empowered.
WHAT ARE THE KEY CONCEPTS FOR NAVIGATING THE JOURNEY TO EMPOWERMENT?
This book will provide in-depth descriptions of the actions that have to be taken to successfully navigate the difficult journey to empowerment. To do so we will integrate three sets of concepts:
The three keys to creating empowerment in an organization that we discussed in Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute.
The three stages of the process of changing to empowerment through which every leader and team member must travel to achieve empowerment.
Situational Leadership(r) II, a framework that has proven valuable for leaders, whether they are working one-on-one with people, in teams, or at the organizational level (department, division, or the total organization) and for team members in their self-leadership efforts.
THE THREE KEYS TO EMPOWERMENT (FROM EMPOWERMENT TAKES MORE THAN A MINUTE)
KEY #1: SHARE INFORMATION WITH EVERYONE
The first (and often misunderstood) key to empowerment is information sharing. As a leader, you do not, surprisingly, start the journey by sharing your vision of empowerment. Rather, you start by sharing whatever information you have about your business with your people. We have learned from our clients and research that without information to understand the business and its needs, team members will see empowerment as just another management idea. They will not trust that change will really occur, and perhaps rightly so. When leaders are willing to share whatever information they have—both good and bad—they begin to gain the trust of their people, who then feel included and trusted by leadership. Furthermore, it should be obvious (though it does not appear to be understood by many leaders) that people without information cannot possibly act responsibly. They cannot be expected to make good business decisions without the same information their leaders have used to make those kinds of decisions in the past. On the other hand, with information, people are almost compelled to act with responsibility. Information sharing gives the empowerment process a kick start that is essential to a successful journey.
KEY #2: CREATE AUTONOMY THROUGH BOUNDARIES
Paradoxically, while empowerment involves minimizing structure so people can operate autonomously, leaders must begin the process of changing to empowerment by imposing more, rather than less, structure. Working in conjunction with information sharing, the second key to empowerment clarifies the need to create autonomy by establishing boundaries. To be sure, the kind of structure we mean is not the same as that found in traditional hierarchies. In a hierarchy, structure is created to inhibit the behavior of people. Rules, procedures, policies, and management reporting relationships are all designed to inform people about what they cannot do or how they must do a task. In empowerment, the structures have a different purpose and take different forms. Now the structure is intended to inform team members about the ranges within which they can act with autonomy. For example, the boundaries in a culture of empowerment take the form of vision statements, collaborative goals, decision-making rules, and performance management partnerships. Within the ranges set by those boundaries, team members can determine what to do and how to do it. As the empowerment process unfolds, the range of structures can widen and deepen to allow people greater degrees of control and responsibility.
KEY #3: TEAMS BECOME THE HIERARCHY
The third vital key that must work in harmony with the other two is gradually replacing the old hierarchy's purpose and functions with self-directed teams. Many of today's complex business decisions require input from a collection of people if those decisions are to be effective. And implementation of the decisions requires team effort if they are to have the desired results. The bottom line is that teams are more effective than individuals in complex situations. The team—with its synergy of effort—offers greater knowledge, plus a support mechanism for people who are trying to act in an empowered fashion. But empowered, self-directed teams are quite different from participative teams, quality circles, or semi-autonomous teams. They make and implement decisions and are held accountable for results; they do not just recommend ideas. Because they are so different, self-directed teams must be developed over time, and team leaders must learn how to work with and in these high performing teams.
THE THREE STAGES IN THE PROCESS OF CHANGING TO EMPOWERMENT
The journey to empowerment is full of challenges, and it requires dedication to see it through to the finish. As with any change that involves habits, attitudes, and behaviors of both leaders and team members, coupled with systems and organizational changes, the journey will involve many ups and downs along the way. In fact, there are three stages of the change process that are clearly distinguishable and that involve different issues, feelings, and needs.
STAGE 1: STARTING AND ORIENTING THE JOURNEY
This first stage of the process of changing to empowerment involves beginning to act and commit to change. It is a time when people throughout the organization will have mixed feelings. On the one hand, team members and leaders will wonder where this journey is actually going to take them and why there is such a strong need to change the way the company is now. On the other hand, they will like the idea of becoming more involved in their work lives and using their many talents each day at work. But there is a naivete that people have at this stage of the change process. On the surface, the idea of empowerment is appealing to both leaders and team members, but underneath there is a feeling of concern over venturing into the unknown world of empowerment, as well as doubt about senior management's sincerity about changing to empowerment.
Excerpted from THE 3 KEYS TO EMPOWERMENT by Ken Blanchard John P. Carlos Alan Randolph Copyright © 2001 by Blanchard Family Trust. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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