Posts tagged empowerment
Empowerment and Control

One of the most common complaints I hear when speaking to senior leaders is around a lack of empowerment in their teams. More specifically, the leader is trying to empower their people but the people are not responding - "I have told them they are empowered, but they still come to me for every little decision". Empowerment is a tricky thing. Telling people that they are empowered is easy, getting them to behave in an empowered way is a very different matter. The problem here is that we are looking at empowerment the wrong way round. Empowerment is not something you can just give to someone. While the giving of empowerment is important, it's not the only step. Empowerment only works when the receiver accepts it. You can give empowerment all you like, but if the intended recipient doesn't accept that empowerment, nothing will happen.

But why wouldn't someone accept empowerment? Everyone wants to be empowered don't they? Why don't they jump at the chance? Many years ago I worked for a very large engineering company and the management wanted to try out this brand new (It was a long time ago) empowerment thing. So they gave every employee an "empowerment card" with a statement from the CEO on it that said that anyone in the organisation was empowered to make any decision required. The idea was that if you wanted to seize empowerment by the horns and make a decision that was out of your normal role, you could whip out your card, toss it on the table and say "The CEO has empowered me to make this decision", and away you go. Sounds great doesn't it? Trouble is, not one person used it. Out of the 150,000 people in the company, not one person used one. Zero. Why?

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Agile Culture Part 4 - Enabling People

Last time we looked at what it means to be a learning organisation. There are obvious benefits to having a learning organisation - better decisions, better products, better processes, better, well, just about everything. There are also some non-obvious benefits that are, in some ways, even more powerful than the obvious stuff - it turns out that learning is extremely motivating for people. Learning organisations tend to have very highly motivated, switched on, dedicated people in them and that gives them a huge advantage. It's not just that these organisations attract those sort of people, but the really amazing thing is that the people already in the organisation become more motivated when the organisation embraces learning.

It turns out that learning - getting better at something - is one of the key things that motivate us. When we talk about motivators in a work context we tend not to think about things like learning. We tend to think more about things like pay and bonuses. Psychologists who work in this field divide up motivators into two types - extrinsic (meaning coming from outside) and intrinsic (coming from inside). Things like pay, bonuses, company cars and the like are extrinsic motivators. Things like learning are intrinsic motivators. Guess which turns out to be more powerful? Yep. Intrinsic motivators win. Extrinsic motivators tend to work in reverse - the lack of pay is a de-motivator, but once you are paid fairly, more pay does not equal more motivation. So, what are intrinsic motivators and how do they work?

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Agile Culture Part 1 - Supportive Leadership

Hi Folks. Back after the new year (and a major unplanned upgrade to the blog that knocked me off air for a few months…so much for keeping up to date with maintenance) I’ll be kicking off with something I talked about at the end of last year - an in-depth look at my views on what an agile culture looks like. If you can cast your minds all the way back to 2018, I posted an overview of 5 things that I feel are the foundations of a good agile culture. To refresh everyone's memories (including mine) after the holiday season, here they are again -

  • Supportive leadership

  • Strive for quality

  • Learning organisation

  • Enable people 

  • Enhance safety

Today I'll be looking at the first one - supportive leadership. Agile folks talk about this all the time by different names. Servant leadership, supportive leadership, people-focused leadership, and a host of others. We all mean the same thing. The trouble is, when we are asked "well, what exactly does that mean, we generally aren't very good at defining it, and are even worse at giving leaders real, practical guidance on what to do to become a supportive/servant/people focused leader. So here is my attempt.

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Control vs Empowerment

There has been a lot of talk at work about increasing empowerment and employee engagement. The common complaint I get from management is that "we have empowered our people but they just won't make use of it". It's a common story. Management gives empowerment but nothing at all happens. Things go on as they did before - everyone looks to management for direction. No one takes initiative. No one takes ownership. No one is empowered.

Empowerment takes more than a few words from management. You can't just tell people they are empowered and lo and behold, they are empowered. Empowerment is something people can't be given. They need to take it, it isn't something you can give. It is something people need to become. Management can't give empowerment. What they need to do is create an environment that allows people to become empowered.

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Agile Leadership

In previous posts (herehere and here) I have called out the need for really solid agile leadership to enable change. Without great leadership, change falters. We know what bad leadership looks like - directive, dis-empowering, disconnect between what they say and what they do. We all know the symptoms of bad management. But what does good management look like?

We can do the obvious and just say that good leadership looks like the reverse of bad leadership - non directive, empowering, behaves in accordance with what they are saying and so on. All that is true, but I have seen really empowering, non directive leaders who were still bad leaders at driving change. I think there is something fundamental that all leaders need to make them effective at delivering lasting change. That thing is the ability (and desire) to change themselves.

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