EmPOWERment in a Hybrid World

Steve Ellis

Steve Ellis

Senior Consultant

Dictionary Definition - Empower

To give someone official or legal authority, or the freedom or confidence to do something:

  • to encourage and support the ability to do something
  • to empower is also to give legal authority for something

Some useful synonyms for us to explore:

control, authority, influence, command, ability, capacity, faculty, property, resources, authority, right, licence, privilege 

When do you feel you have the power to act? What conditions create the confidence for you to take action, move forward, make decisions?

Flatter structures demand more decision making without seniority or hierarchical based authority. Hybrid working has resulted in increased independent work patterns (notwithstanding the demand for collaboration) that in turn means more independent risk taking, decision making and action taking.

What can leaders and organisations do to ensure that increased independent accountability/ responsibility is matched with empowerment?  After all accountability without empowerment is simply abdication or worse.

5 Strategies to Empowerment:

  1. Information
  2. Capability
  3. Authority
  4. Feedback
  5. Relationships

1. Information

Many commentators are now talking about ‘Truth to Power’. Leaders will need to share as much truth as they can within parameters of risk and not status or ego. The absence of information and feeling ‘in the dark’ reduces the confidence to act. Be transparent with vision, strategy, data, finances, implications, risks. Leaders cannot always be around to share the information especially in a hybrid environment, so it is important to do this systematically and at scale. Create information sharing and knowledge sharing environments and management systems.

As Louise Hay stated: ‘People are doing the best with what they know’ and ‘if they knew better, they’d do better’.

2. Capability

People are confident to take action when they trust themselves and their own knowledge, skills and process for execution. In a hybrid world where social learning, learning from colleagues sitting next to you and where waiting for the next training course is not always an option, the Learning and Development team and business leaders will need to provide the necessary knowledge and skills on an on-demand, asynchronous and in a personalised way. Organisations will need a coaching culture where leaders are proactive and agile in their support and responsiveness to the capability needs of the team. Being on the receiving end of great coaching will also teach employees to be great coaches too.

3. Authority

What are the rules? What is legal? Am I allowed to do this/ that? Permission to act needs to be very visible and overt. Bureaucracy, red tape, inconsistency and excessively complex processes of decision making is only made more challenging when the team of people are across multiple sites. Providing the team with clear descriptions of the Legal and risk framework will go some considerable way to reducing the fear. Adopting an agile and adaptive approach where people take action and apologise / learn later will further reduce that fear of failure and reprisals, Authority is real and perceived. Perception is a cultural thing.

4. Feedback

Feedback is the food of champions! It is also the food for empowerment. The more data I have about myself, my actions, behaviours, direct and indirect outcomes the more choices I have. Awareness drives understanding, choice, control and performance.

The things I am aware of I can control. The things I am unaware of control me.

Leaders would be well served to institutionalise a ‘Win, learn, Change’ culture where colleagues reflect on ‘what is working well’, what is not working that we can learn from’ and ‘what can we change’. Continued affirmation of the wins drives confidence whilst focusing on the learns and the changes drives proactivity, accountability, awareness, insight and ownership of issues. Leaders need to focus on coaching + feedback rather than being directive.  Being directive increases dependence.  Coaching drives independence. Once established the culture of feedback can and arguably must work both ways with juniors providing feedback to seniors.

5. Relationships

Everyone should feel empowered to make decisions for the good of the business, its employees, customers and society.  Why would you not want that? It’s difficult to provide that value living in splendid isolation.  Relationships are key and broker the development of interdependence fostered through individual empowerment and collaboration.

Underpinning relationships is:

  • Trust
  • Psychological safety
  • Respect for diversity

When this is achieved, we witness the behaviours of:

  • Collaboration
  • Networking
  • Ideation and creativity

Collective Empowerment

Strategies 1-4 create independence. It is the building of relationships, connections and belonging that builds interdependence – collective empowerment.

Empowerment is a cultural outcome. It depends on a particular leadership style adopted by the organisation from sales and marketing, operations, supply chain, manufacturing HR, IT and Finance.  Any business area that is disempowered by controlling directive leaders will create a bottle neck of decision making and action taking that will affect the rest of the organisation, it’s agility and delivery to customers. The C-Suite must explicitly align and communicate the empowerment leadership model to the team and role model the behaviours themselves. This needs to be met with a ‘ready’ workforce – ready to act, be entrepreneurial and innovative and needs to be reflected on recruitment, onboarding, KPI’s/ measurement, rewards and recognition.

Empowerment isn’t a sentence “you are empowered” but rather a culture borne from a leadership model and leadership capabilities.

If you would like further information on this topic please get in touch with Steve at steve.ellis@arcadiaconsulting.co.uk.

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