April 23, 2018
True Empowerment Delivers True Innovation
by Rishab Rao
“Every single employee is someone’s son or someone’s daughter. Like a parent, a leader of a company is responsible for their precious lives.” – Simon Sinek
An Organization of Empowered Intellect
Imagine that you had a genius like Thomas Edison or Albert Einstein working as an employee in your organization. How would the business benefit from this talent? Now imagine that you had an organization full of Edisons and Einsteins. The possibilities become limitless. A savvy leader would leverage this asset to the fullest. Even a fraction of that talent and the business would benefit tremendously. So, what stands between an organization of “employees” and one full of creative problem solvers? If you thought “money”, you need to please read on!
Unfortunately, corporations often view employees as a necessary liability as opposed to invaluable assets. The business needs people to execute tasks and in return they are paid a salary. What happens when the company is in distress, as they often are in weak economic conditions? Typically, the first order of business is to dump liabilities, of which payroll is among the largest opportunities for expense reduction. This is evidence that corporations view their employees as liabilities. A culture of trust and empowerment cannot coalesce in such an environment.
How do you foster a culture of value for people? Employees must feel respected and empowered. But, this empowerment cannot be without direction and structure. A specific type of empowerment yields an organization of geniuses. Empowerment comes in many forms. To foster a culture of value and creativity, the entire organization must be empowered. Overwhelmed yet? That’s the correct reaction. Organizational empowerment is not easy but infinitely beneficial.
The Essence of Empowerment
Workers’ unions are often highlighted as a sign of empowerment. Do not be swindled by this fallacy. It is quite the contrary. The presence of a workers’ union is a clear indication that there is little to no workforce empowerment. Unions form as a defense mechanism in response to total and absolute disempowerment. Conversely, a highly individualistic culture, in which authority over decisions and actions is normalized, is also not empowered. In fact, an organization bursting at the seams with individuals possessing complete authority over decisions and actions is potentially catastrophic.
So, what is empowerment? There are two elements of empowerment: empowerment of Action through Authority, and the empowerment of thought through Knowledge. The empowerment of thought entails encouraging the workforce to learn new, relevant and applicable knowledge. The empowerment of action involves granting the workforce the authority to make relevant and sound decisions pertaining to their work. Thought must precede the action. The more relevant knowledge and information one possesses, the better the outcome of one’s actions and decisions.
Empowerment must be administered in continuous dosage. Continuously encourage and incentivize your employees to gain relevant knowledge and progressively grant them greater degrees of authority for action. One without the other is only a shadow of empowerment. Authority without relevant knowledge leads to poor decisions and detrimental outcomes of actions. Knowledge without authority to take action results in an information-rich environment that makes little to no progress toward business objectives.
True Empowerment can be defined as Knowledge-backed Authority bestowed upon an individual to make relevant decisions successfully toward business objectives.
Knowledge: The necessary, relevant information, skill, and experience to evaluate appropriate scenarios and make sound decisions. The gaining of knowledge is a continuous and unceasing process and, hence, must be regulated to prevent overwhelming the individual. The learning never stops. The more knowledge and experience an individual possesses the better the quality and outcomes of their decisions.
Authority: The ability and willingness to independently make sound decisions and take action without prior approval of a supervisor. Authority is metered out in incrementally greater degrees as the individual gains the necessary knowledge and experience. It is a structured and controlled process.
Two parameters (Knowledge and Authority) and two levels (More versus Less) yield four combinations and consequently four types of empowerment.
Source: KHI’s Empowerment Model
DISEMPOWERMENT (Less Knowledge – Less Authority)
When knowledge and skill progression is low priority and the workforce is allowed little to no authority, they become disempowered. Individual workers have no clear development path to learn the skills to gaining greater authority within the organization. Individuals work alone with no opportunity or need for teams. This workforce feels a sense of isolation and has no loyalty to the organization.
This type of business grows slowly and often solely as a result of a shake of the stick. Results are driven by a rigid authoritative hierarchy. Employees are uninterested in solving problems or innovating. Leadership is concerned only with profitability, while the workforce is concerned with a steady paycheck and vacation time. New, ardent attitudes toward problem solving and innovation are soon quelled and conformed to the existing culture. This is an industrial era culture in which people are more akin to machines than individuals capable of intellect.
BLIND EMPOWERMENT (Less Knowledge – More Authority)
Authority without relevant knowledge is blind empowerment. Individuals feel a sense of false empowerment as they wield unbridled authority for decisions and action. This workforce feels a strong sense of entitlement. However, this workforce lacks sufficient relevant knowledge to back their authority with sound thought and structure. A strongly individualistic environment, employees believe that success and progression in the organization is entirely in their own hands. Team cohesion is weak in this arena with individuals jostling for personal credit and success.
Business growth is difficult to sustain in this culture, often alternating between periods of rapid growth and decline. Results are achieved through some form of individual reward and recognition system. The organization itself may seem flat with no apparent rank hierarchy, but one actually exists interpersonally between individuals. Leadership and employees tend to share common objectives in this culture and function efficiently without a complex hierarchical system. This is usually guaranteed by a precisely-crafted incentive program. Unrestrained authority leads to an abundance of innovative ideas, the majority of which seldom materialize concretely.
CONSTRAINED EMPOWERMENT (More Knowledge – Less Authority)
Knowledge without authority is constrained empowerment. This workforce has no clear development path to gaining greater authority and rank within the organization. Deeply knowledgeable and highly skilled, this workforce possesses excellent problem-solving abilities and a penchant for innovation. However, they soon lose interest due to a lack of leadership encouragement, support, and forward momentum. This workforce feels stifled when their tremendous innovative potential remains untapped, which leads to a sense of abandonment.
This type of business grows in moderate strides. Results are driven by a strict authoritative hierarchy. The complex and inefficient organization structure creates boredom and feelings of dissociation among this workforce. Leadership does not value the knowledge and skills of their employees and concerns themselves with profitability over employee happiness. The employee turnover rate is high in this environment.
TRUE EMPOWERMENT (More Knowledge – More Authority)
Progressively greater knowledge-backed authority fuels true empowerment. This workforce possesses the knowledge to make sound decisions, actuated by their authority for relevant action. The inclusive yet independent culture creates a sense of ownership among the employees. This is an unstoppable workforce able to deliver innovation on demand and leverage the collective intellect to solve complex problems.
Solidly supported by leadership, this workforce is able to deliver steep business growth and sustain the aggressive pace. Individuals are accustomed to working in teams which perform with a great degree of cohesion and success. Results are achieved by evoking personal passions and sharing of the benefits. A hierarchical structure is unnecessary for this workforce to be productive and highly effective. In this flat organization, every individual clearly understands the business objectives and their personal role in achieving them. A truly empowered organization is rare, but when achieved, the possibilities for business growth are without limit.
True Empowerment is a Future Necessity
The future lies in empowerment. Oxford University economists Dr. Carl Frey and Dr. Michael Osborne predict that machines will replace 40% of human jobs by 20301. This percentage will only increase after that. However, humans have one innate ability that is infinitely difficult to build into machines and that is their malleable intellects. This will be the asset of the future. Learn to leverage the intellect of an entire organization and you will achieve genius-level results regularly. The key to unlocking true and routine innovation lies in the true empowerment of your workforce.