December  2014     Edition 109
Two requirements for Empowerment

Managers and leaders often set a goal to “empower”

their people to make more decisions and take actions on their own.   It’s a worthy goal.  Senior managers and leaders don’t have the time or expertise to make all the decisions. Organizations would come to a standstill if every decision needed to be made by the boss.  It’s also necessary for succession planning, i.e. growing others to become future leaders.

Empowerment isn’t about just giving others permission

to make decisions.  This is a recipe for failure.  Just giving permission is one of the major reasons why empowerment is often less effective and in some cases a disaster.  Leaders and managers will often scratch their heads because their people are “empowered”  yet are still are not making decisions or upset because their people are making too many poor decisions.

People will make decisions when they are confident in their conclusion.

   No one wants to error, so if an individual isn’t confident, even though they have permission, they will hesitate to move forward and make the call.   Worse, if put under pressure to make a decision that they are uncertain about, the risk of error is high.

Empowerment is the combination

of giving permission to make decisions AND helping those who now have permission, to be confident in their conclusions.   Confidence comes from sound thinking obtained from training, coaching and mentoring, and practice.  In addition, their needs to be a willingness on the part of their manager to accept the learning curve associated with anything new.. Including errors and mistakes along the way.

Reversing this

… if you have been empowered to make certain decisions, ask yourself what tools you need to have confidence in your thinking.   Maybe it’s a technical skill, maybe teaming with another person with particular knowledge, or a list of sources to tap into.  What training do you need?

Here’s an example I often run across.

  Customer service;   Many organizations want to empower a customer service rep to be able to address a customer’s issue without having to escalate or defer to another.  In some cases, they want the customer service rep to be able to issue a discount, or refund, or to say no to a customer request, even if it risks losing the customer.  Organizations don’t want their reps to just give customers a discount just because a customer is unhappy.  They want to empower them, i.e.,  to use their thinking to determine what’s the right thing to do, what’s appropriate, weight the customers and organizations needs together, and make the decision.  These organizations want their people to think.  When properly trained, an empowered customer care center can be a competitive advantage.

The Takeaway:
Successful empowerment is a combination of permission and solid thinking that provides individuals with the confidence and a good process to take the reins and make a good decision.

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