Empowerment - a question of trust...
It is increasingly fashionable for organisations to talk about empowerment. Managers are urged by senior executives to “run their business” or “take responsibility for your operation” or simply become empowered.
The “e” word still makes its way into countless presentations on organisational change or management style. Those present usually let it pass without a word of challenge. But how do you go about empowering people in a way that works and goes beyond the sound-bite?
Leadership behaviour is crucial. To create empowerment in their businesses leaders must learn to listen rather than speak and coach rather than tell. Far too often the behaviour of leaders is blatantly at odds with the messages they are giving.
Boundaries and limits are also important. There is a need to provide a clear, compelling vision and clarify limits so that people can feel confident rather than confused.
But most importantly there is the question of trust. A business we heard about recently decided to empower its sales staff in an attempt to improve customer retention. They introduced a scheme where individuals could spend money to “rescue” any difficult customer situations they were facing. Each was given a set sum of money to work with; an upper limit. After three months, not one pound had been spent! When people were surveyed to ask why, the response was revealing. Even though they admitted having had difficult situations to deal with, they did not want to spend the money. They simply did not believe that their bosses would actually support their decisions. They did not trust them. The culture was still full of fear.
The lesson from the story is clear. You cannot just tell people to be empowered; it takes time and only comes when leaders start to behave differently and people experience being managed differently!
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