13 June 2017
6 ways to empower your key asset
By Samir Rahim, IT Director, MOSL
The single biggest corporate differentiator we have at our disposal is our people.
I’m often surprised by the focus placed on process, systems and governance to achieve outcomes. We all generally have the same processes and governance and while these items have an established place in any organisation I’m not convinced they drive innovation. It’s our people who make us great and yet empowering them to achieve amazing things often falls a distant second to establishing governance and process. If you agree with me, here are six ways I’ve learned over the course of my career to empower a team to deliver high calibre performance.
1) Steer, don’t drive
Teams need a leader to set the tone and direction of workflow. To articulate the vision and desired outcome; rather than the prescriptive answer or detailed roadmap to get there. In fact, I believe that the less prescriptive we are as leaders the more we leave room for our teams to explore avenues and options on their journey. Teams need to go through the process of discovery; trying out ideas and rejecting them and then choosing different possibilities in the process of achievement. Empowerment comes from being able to say “I am clear where we need to be and I have the knowledge and flexibility to figure out the best way to arrive.”
2) The relationship between answers and thought
One of the biggest annoyances in my career is when I see a leader both articulating a vision and then dictating the precise implementation of its strategy. I will give you very good odds that the most typical outcome in that scenario is a leader lamenting that their team “doesn’t think for themselves”. Or a leader wondering why they seem to have to do all the thinking for the group. It’s a simple equation: “if you always give someone the answer then they will stop thinking and wait for you to give it” They will become transactional and not innovative. It’s very rare that there’s only one way of doing something – so be generous and let your team decide how to achieve your vision. They will feel a much greater sense of satisfaction when their idea pays off and you may even learn something in the process.
3) The great deflection
Consider this scenario. One of your team comes to you with a problem, but they make the mistake of not thinking through a possible solution. They are effectively empowering to you to resolve it for them. You could choose to say “Ah ok fine, let’s do this, then do that and I’ll take care of it.” Or you could say “Wow that is a real problem; luckily for me I have you as my expert and I trust you to make the right decision. If you want to bounce ideas off me I’m here whenever you’re ready.” It seems so trivial but this daily push back is important to reinforce the conviction they are in control of the issues. It’s important to reinforce trust in their expertise, as well as providing support in developing the answer. Doing this daily will help empower your team to make choices and continually develop their skillset.
4) Servant leadership
At this point one could argue that I’m suggesting that the best way to empower your team is to be an absent leader. Quite the contrary. I think teams need their leader to coach, mentor and outline opportunities. It is again the idea that the less prescriptive we are the more we encourage autonomy in our teams. Our role, as I see it, should be to stimulate thought by suggesting ideas and possible alternate directions. This gives our teams support and the benefit of our experience without imposing a solution.
5) Set out the boundaries
Empowerment is not about giving carte blanche to your team to do whatever they feel like doing. Setting boundaries, authority levels and decision making parameters helps to underline their independence – identifying which decisions belong to the team and which should stay with the leader. By setting these boundaries the team is truly empowered and understand the context within which they are free to operate.
6) Thank you
How often do we take the time to stop and say thank you? If someone made great progress on something or helped the team solve a problem, it is the easiest and most powerful thing to acknowledge it and say thank you. I would advocate being specific about what the team member did, acknowledge that you value their contribution and encourage them to do it again and again. I’ve found this simple thing makes people feel the benefit of the empowerment they’ve been given.
In this blog, I’ve talked about the team and empowerment. But where does that leave the team leader? If we are not giving detailed instructions, managing day-to-day activities or making decisions, then what do we do with our time? I have two main thoughts on this. The first is that the role of the leader has changed over the years. As working teams have adopted flexible working, often across multiple sites, and have taken empowerment over their day to day activities, I believe this has evolved the role of the leader to be more about mentoring, coaching, supporting and providing advice based on experience. It’s about enabling the team to achieve their potential by getting out the way, but staying close enough to provide support. Leaders need to keep horizon scanning to ensure that operational activities, which remain our responsibility, are delivered to time, cost and quality. It’s a game of spinning plates, balancing your own, while helping others to keep theirs going too. If you see a plate start to wobble, step in, help correct it, then step away.
Empower your team and they will deliver great results.