Empowering Mega Corp: insights into work/life balance
A Fable About Achieving
Work/Life Balance In The 21st Century
Mitchell W. Manning Sr.
A Fable About Achieving
Work/Life Balance In The 21st Century
“They let me think for myself.”
Construction Technician III
The objective of this modern fable is to examine empowerment in
organizations from the family unit to multinational business organizations to
show the parallels and the paradoxes. After reading and digesting the
information provided you will be able to write your own definition of
empowerment, establish smart empowerment expectations, and design,
develop, and deliver an empowering empowerment plan for your family and
your business. You will be able to do this using new knowledge, systematic
and logical processes, and your personal experience with empowerment.
Let’s begin with the fable. Close your eyes and imagine a scene not so long,
long ago in a behaviorally and technology challenged boardroom, in a
kingdom at its twilight, in a land not so far far away. The CEO of
MegaCorp is furious. The people at the workstations are not taking
ownership, not making good business decisions. The quality is bad, the
costs are high, and the timeliness of delivery is suffering. “This is hell.
We’re up the creek without a paddle, down the river without a canoe.
We’ve done everything for them. They have steady work, good pay, and we
are so automated they don’t even have to think anymore. And, and, and
what do we get in return?” He fumed. “Irate customers, declining margins,
angry shareholders, and employee relations problems out the ying yang.”
“We need some ideas.”
s To invest with legal authority; authorize.
s To supply with the means, knowledge, or
opportunity to be or do something.
s To make feasible or possible.
s To give legal power, capacity, or sanction to.
“First let me tell you, you are right on target BW. Second, let me suggest
that maybe it’s time we ramped up our empowerment plan. We’ve
implemented successfully the pay for knowledge and skills program, the pay
for performance program, and now the time, and business situation, is right
to activate the management by objectives program.” The Vice President of
Human Resources offered up. “Geez, another flavor of the day. I’m
beginning to feel more than a little violated by all this empowerment”,
thought the newest supervisor from the Technogadget area of the principle
product division. With that thought, he let his mind slip away to his real
problem at hand, his sixteen year old daughter and her driving privileges. “It
was only yesterday,” he thought, “that she got her first tricycle. She was
three years old and it was a reward to her and everyone around her for
surviving her terrible twos. Gosh, that was so easy and so fun. Watching
her reaction to her shiny red and chrome dream machine. Teaching her to
pedal. She got it backwards at first, but then pretty soon she was scooting
after the cat and endangering the furniture and whatever and who ever was
in her path. But that was so easy because she learned quickly and insisted
on ‘let me do it myself’”, he thought.
“By age five she was ready for her first bicycle with training wheels.
What an experience. She couldn’t live with the training wheels and couldn’t
ride without them. It didn’t take her that long though to get her bearings and
her balance. Then she was master of her machine. Competently and
confidently she pedaled around the driveway. I did have to keep her away
from the street though, and there were those skinned elbows and knees. But,
she caught on quickly and was impatient to move on to the next level. Her
eighteen inch trainer bike was still like new when she insisted on a twenty
inch bike. Just imagine the wear on that bike. She rode the wheels off at
least twice before she was eleven. “Those were the days”, he thought.
s The ability or capacity to act or perform
s Em or en -
– To put into or onto.
– To cover or provide with.
– To cause to be.
“It really is unbelievable that she is sixteen and already has two traffic
violations and one nearly fatal traffic accident behind her. It was only
yesterday that she was twelve and she bought her first mountain bike with
money she had saved from chores and presents. What a day that was. As
soon as we got it home, she wanted to ride across town to a friend's house.
That’s when I explained the rules of the road, the safety precautions, and the
necessity to keep an eye out for the other person. She seemed disappointed,
but took it well, when we insisted that she wear the helmet, elbow and knee
pads, thick socks and biking shoes. Her reaction, when she learned these
items were our gift to her, was totally expected. That’s why we were
prepared to explain to her that it was more for us, than for her. She was not
exactly receptive or convinced. But what the heck, I was never really
convinced, or sympathetic, when my dad or mom told me that it hurt them
more than it hurt me. It was with great fanfare that we set off on our first
journey across town to the friend's house. We were excited and prepared. I
followed on my old beat up Schwinn not to close, and not to far. After the
first block, she didn’t seem to notice I was even there. It was more for me
than for her anyway. After all, she had been riding for almost ten years and
she definitely had the balance thing down to an art as she demonstrated by
straightening those turns.”
Trent was snatched back to reality when BW’s voice intoned, “Trent,
what do you have my boy? When those worry lines of yours are
overpowered by that look, that, that determined smile of yours it gives it
away. Something is cooking inside that head of yours. What is it?”
“It’s balance, sir,” Trent blurted out before he could stop himself. “Brilliant.
This young man is absolutely brilliant. It is balance. We have got to
balance the needs of MegaCorp, the needs of the employees, and the needs
of our customers,” BW proclaimed. “Let me chart this winner,” offered the
Vice President of Human Resources, as he jumped toward the easel and
flipchart. “We can all learn together on this one and work together. We’ll
achieve, achieve, someone tell me what I’m thinking”, said BW. “It’s like 1
plus 1 equals 4, or, 8, or 16, but always more than 2.” Trent volunteered, “is
it synergy you’re thinking, sir.” “Of course it is synergy I’m thinking, Trent.
And why don’t you drop that sir thing. I’m BW to everybody on my team.
This young man can read my mind. He’s a team player. Keep your eye on
him. I tell you he’s going places”, said BW.
“Do you want me to chart that BW,” asked the VP of HR. “Hell no,
the last thing I need, you need, and this young man needs is to stir
everyone’s corn flakes with another chapter on BW’s favorite son”,
exclaimed BW. “Not that, sir. I mean what Trent said. You know, what
you were thinking. The synergy thing”, said the VP of HR. Of course I
want it charted. You should know that by now. That is what I pay you to
do. You know how I insist on leveraging our knowledge and skills, and
charting is your skill”, said BW as the VP of HR dutifully charted Synergy.
“You just gave us the third key to empowerment. It is leverage”, offered the
VP of HR. “Brilliant. Balance, Synergy, and Leverage. Trent, my boy, I
have never claimed to possess great intelligence myself, but I know it when I
see it”, said BW. “You got it and by golly we’re going to use it. This will
give us wily goats something to chew on. Why don’t you think about this
Balance, Synergy, and Leverage overnight and we will hear your plan to
empower the hell out of everyone in MegaCorp tomorrow.
Empowerment Values and Ethics
“Pat, I don’t have the foggiest notion of where to begin”, Trent said to the
Vice President of Human Resources moments after BW and the others had
cleared the room. “Well then, it is time for a little self-direction”, Pat
replied. “Here’s a simple technique to help you figure out what to do. Just
relax and try to remember the first time that you said to your mom, dad, or
siblings, “I can do it myself’. You were probably about three years old, and
it was probably dressing yourself, making your bed, or bathing. You may
actually experience some of the same positive emotions recalling the event
such as confidence, self-pride, importance, and independence as you felt as a
three year old at that moment so many years ago. You may also remember
the negative feelings such as being at risk of embarrassment, feeling unsafe
or afraid of hurting yourself, and not sure exactly sure that you could
actually pull it off. My question is what did you do next?”
“Well I have to tell you, I sized up the situation pretty thoroughly for a three
year old. I wanted to pour my own milk into my own bowl of cereal just the
same as I saw my sister do. It was the largest jug of milk I had ever seen
just after my mother said ‘well you just go right ahead and do it your self big
boy.’ That jug must have grown about ten gallons with her words, said
“Tell me what happened”, said Pat. “I’ve never seen so much milk on the
kitchen table and floor before or since”, replied Trent. “But, I saved the day
and my hide when, I said ‘bad boy Trent.’"
The Empowering Leader
Pat gave a little chuckle and said. “That’s a wonderful story of self-
direction, self-development, and self-discipline. And those are the three
keys to successful personal empowerment. Now, to complete BW’s
assignment you and I have to commit to self-direct, self-develop, and self-
discipline our selves to deliver the empowerment plan by tomorrow
morning. First though I want to gamble that your mother was a wonderful
example of an empowering leader. I’m going to chart the key
responsibilities of an empowering leader. When I’m finished, I want you to
tell me which things she did immediately following the famous milk
escapade.” With that said, Pat charted ‘listens, communicates, motivates,
educates, coaches, mentors, and administrates.’ When she finished she
turned to Trent and asked “which did she do?”
“Honestly, she did all eight things. She did laugh a little, but not at me.
She laughed at the situation and my reaction. She let me finish my act
before she said a word. Then, she told me that she knew it was a big jug of
milk, but that she believed I could pour it. She said ‘it is just as much my
mess as yours. And then, she said ‘here, before we clean this mess up, let
me show you how I hold the jug of milk. With that she filled the jug half
full of water and then placed my right hand on the handle and told me to
hold tightly. Then, she put my left hand on the bottom of the jug and said let
me see you pour it. I’ve poured my own milk ever since. Of course, she
never stopped coaching and mentoring me to ‘pay attention’ and to do it
right, big boy’ to this very day.”
Principles of Empowerment
Respect dignity and self-esteem
Build Competence and Confidence
Communicate the what, why, and how
Motivate with involvement and authority
Ask for help and encourage involvement
Share thoughts, feelings, and rationale
Start the transfer of ownership
Educate with timely knowledge and evaluation
Administrate responsibility and accountability
Support progress without removing responsibility
Pat then said, “and I’ll also gamble that she involved you in cleaning up
your own mess that day.” “You got that right” replied Trent. “You see,”
said Pat, “all truly empowering leaders inherently demonstrate the principles
of empowerment time after time as if they are the most natural things to do.
Let me show you how it worked for you and your mother.” With that said,
Pat turned to charting and continued talking. “ The priority principle of
empowerment is to respect the sense of dignity and self-esteem of the person
being empowered while doing the same for your self. The follow-on to that
principle is to build competence and confidence. This requires that you
communicate the what, why, and how of the empowering act. It really is a
great help when you motivate the one being empowered by involving them
in the act and giving them authority to act alone. This is so easy when you
ask for help and encourage involvement, share your thoughts feelings and
rationale, and immediately start the transfer of ownership. Then you provide
continuing education and timely knowledge to support onward and upward
development of competence and confidence. And finally, you have to track,
or administrate, responsibility and accountability for performing the act, or
task, without taking away responsibility. I’ll bet your mom still checks on
what you are doing and how you are doing from time to time.”
“How do you know so much about my mom?” Asked Trent.
Empowerment and Personality Types
Contractors High Partners
Shared Goals and Values
Victims Control Low Workers
“Because you are a testimony to her empowering leadership through your
words and actions in this organization. You see all people in all
organizations can be grouped by their words and actions into four categories.
The grouping revolves around their sense of control and accountability for
their work and their commitment to shared goals and values in the
organization. It is important to remember I use the word ‘organization’ to
apply equally to the simplest family unit all the way to the largest
international corporation. First there are people who like things just the way
they are and don’t want their job changed. They have a low sense of control
and accountability in their job and a high sense of share goals and values.
These people I refer to as loyal workers. There is another group that always
thinks that they are being done in by the organization, the system, their boss,
and their co-workers. They also have a low sense of control and
accountability and they also have a low sense of shared goals and values.
This group I call victims. The third group has a high sense of control and
accountability and a low sense of share goals and values. This group I call
free agents, or, independent contractors. Finally there is the group that has a
high sense of control and accountability and a high sense of shared goals and
values. That Trent is how I think your mother empowered you. Now, on the
matrix I’ve drawn you can see that a person could be on a quadrant close to
the center, or, to the extreme remote corners. The farther from the center we
find our targets the harder our job is going to be.” Said Pat. “And our job
is?” Asked Trent.
Safety - to feel protected by the one who empowers
Perspective - to share the same point-of-view
Energy - to be energized by the one who empowers
“Meeting the empowerment needs of the people is our ultimate assignment
Trent. Right now all we need to develop is our plan before tomorrow
morning. It will help if we can agree that all people have three basic needs
that when fulfilled will help them to reach their empowerment potential. It
is up to the leadership team to meet their needs. We’ve got to learn to take
each employee where we find them on the field of empowerment and to help
them to feel safe, commit to support our point of view or perspective, and to
raise their energy level to achieve the business objectives of MegaCorp.”
“BW sure doesn’t ask much does he?” Replied Trent.
Empowerment and Learning State
s Unconscious Incompetent
s Conscious Incompetent
s Conscious Competent
s Unconscious Competent
“It is easier than you think if you have the patience and perseverance for the
job. All people begin in a learning state that has been described as
Unconscious Incompetent. This means that they don’t know what they don’t
know. Usually they appear to be in a state of absolute bliss. It’s like before
you knew about tricycles and that your friends could ride tricycles. You
don’t know and you don’t care. People can’t care if they don’t know. Once
they know they become Conscious Incompetent. It is really frustrating for
all of us when we realize that we don’t know what we want to know. It can
explain many of the tantrums we all experience throughout our lives.
Personally, information overload is currently creating CI problems for me in
my job. When we have access to what we need to know, we usually can
raise our ship to the conscious competent level by self-direction and self-
development. This is when we know what we need to know to become
competent. Then, if we are fortunate enough to have long enough to really
develop ourselves we can achieve the Unconscious Competent level of
development. This when you don’t even have to think about what you are
doing. It’s like riding your bike through the curves by the feel of the seat.
Or, maybe it’s more like what you experience when you are driving your car
and your mind starts to wander. All of a sudden you feel as if you have just
reawaken and you honestly don’t remember the last five miles. This is a
really great competency level, but also a more dangerous time for incidents
and accidents for the the highly competent.” Said Pat.
“How much can Pat know about my daughter and me?” Thought Trent.
Empowerment of Knowing and Willing
s Unknowing and Unwilling
s Knowing and Unwilling
s Knowing and Willing
s Unknowing and Willing
Pat continued to talk and chart. “This information and what I’m about to
share can really help us develop the empowerment plan for BW and
MegaCorp.” “Tell me more.” Said Trent. “There is a relationship between
knowledge and willingness that parallels the levels of consciousness and
competence. You see when people are Unknowing they are predictably
Unwilling. Immediately after becoming Knowing they predictably continue
to be Unwilling.” Said Pat. “I’m beginning to see that empowerment is
about information and knowledge of the act or tasks.” Said Trent. “Exactly,
but stay with me” replied Pat.
“For most of us, at some point in our knowing we become willing. It’s as if
we have prepared for a journey and suddenly find that we are ready to take
the first step. As our self-confidence develops our willingness grows.
Almost magically we can reach a point of confidence where we may be
willing to act without complete knowledge. It’s similar to leaving the
freeway to explore the back roads. We’ve all done it at some point in our
life. It usually happens when we have developed a sense of self confidence
and competence that enables us to take a risk for a potential reward. This is
how we grow and develop and how personal change takes place. There are
a lot of elements and factors that are involved which as managers we can
provide that will motivate other employees to seek empowerment such as
desire and fear” said Pat.
“Oh, BW taught that one to me. It’s no pain, no gain. Right?” Said Trent.
Empowerment and Performance
t With D
Performance Without e
“You can say it that way. You can also say that we want to empower
employees in order to move from our present state to a desired future state.
One aspect of a manager’s job is to direct and support that change as a leader
of the organization.” Pat spoke as she charted. “I just know from
experience with our last foray into employee empowerment that it is not as
simple as it sounds. And good management is not necessarily good leading”
“Of course you are right, and your tone of voice reminds me that we had
some pretty bad experiences. Maybe, you have some ideas about why things
were as painful as they were”, replied Pat. “I sure do. We were asked to do
things that we didn’t have a clue how to do. We were expected to make
decisions without the business information needed to make good decisions.
I felt like a four year old lost at the mall” said Trent.
“Trent, you just answered your own question about how do we prepare
people to be empowered. It is essential that the four year old knows What is
a Mall? Why we are going to the Mall? What we can do at the Mall? The
rewards of going to the Mall, and the loss if we don’t go to the Mall”, said
“You’re telling me all people need information” said Trent.
Level Of Empowerment
At this point Trent felt compelled to confess “I can’t even do this effectively
with my sixteen year old daughter. How can I do it in a large organization?”
“Trent, we won’t go into your family life, but let me assure you that there
are keys to success in each environment which are parallel. Perhaps you can
learn to address and practice them in each facet of your life. First, you have
to know the environment for the empowerment. This very often determined
by the type and hierarchy of leadership. The pecking order so to speak and
the politics. This helps to determine the scope and the boundaries of the
empowerment. More importantly these things help to set the desired
outcomes of the empowerment. It is sort of like the chicken and the egg
question about which comes first?”
“ One thing for certain is the outcome can never succeed by exceeding the
rules and the capacity of the environment. We have to face up to that.
When BW is telling us his expectations, we have to connect him to reality
with questions around budget issues about time, money and other resource
constraints. This will help us get from him a clearer definition and greater
personal commitment to the level of empowerment that we can achieve and
sustain. It will also enable us to direct BW to realistic target dates for start
and completion of the empowerment activities for our empowerment plan’
Hierarchy of Decision-Making for Empowerment
Process and Systems
•Operational goals and issues
•Communication and Motivation
•Education and Administration
Functions and Tasks
•Routine and Operational Performance
•Commitment and Continuous Improvement
“Oh my”, said Trent. “We’ve got to wrap this up. There are things I have
to attend to back in my work area before I go home. I had no idea it was this
late. Tell me what to do for our presentation to BW tomorrow.” “Not so
fast Trent” said Pat. “We need to agree on the hierarchy of decision-making
within our company before we can agree on a plan for empowerment. This
is the way I see it. BW’s focus is on the employees with routine and
operational functions and tasks. This is the first level of empowerment and
our job is to gain commitment of these employees to continuous
improvement of their functions and tasks. The second level of
empowerment is for the entry and middle level management team. These
are the employees who deal with the operational goals and issues which
direct and support the work at the function and task level. These employees
are essential to the success of empowerment at the function and task level.
We have to get their commitment to developing their skills in
communication, motivation, education, and administration to better direct
and support those employees. The third level of empowerment is at BW’s
level and his direct reports. These people have to deal with the critical and
sensitive issues affecting the company’s long-term organizational goals.
How far will we get without their involvement and support for
empowerment initiatives at the other levels?”
“About half-way to first base” replied Trent.
“Well then, our approach has to consider individual empowerment, team
empowerment, and organizational empowerment. To be successful
empowerment has to be aligned with the work and the products and services
at each of the levels. Alignment has to include considering the hand-offs for
each product and service from the input, process, and output perspectives.
We often refer to this around here as the internal supplier and internal
customer perspective. This is where many of our functions and tasks break
down. People are just not sure who is responsible for the transition. Is it the
customer or the supplier? It is a good area for self-empowerment, but it
requires individual initiative.
Individual initiative has risks and people must learn that they will be
rewarded not punished for taking empowerment risks. Then, we have to
decide is empowerment access a voluntary or a mandatory thing. Will the
employees have choices. This is important because the discretionary effort
is greater for the volunteer than for the volunteered. And, where are they
empowered to be empowered? We have to know if they are empowered to
go beyond their job duties and responsibilities, or, are their boundaries their
direct job responsibilities? From experience and case studies the most
successful empowerment is for employees to focus on what they know best
and that is their direct job responsibility. This is where they are expert. As
experts, the first application of empowerment needs to be work-focused
problem-solving. We can develop their skills for decision-making, goal-
setting and change as we go along the empowerment path and in the order I
just gave. The order is important because it is a natural progression of
“Pat, I’ve got to go. What do I need to do?” Asked Trent. “Trent, you
need to commit to being knowing and willing tomorrow morning at 8 am in
the board room with BW. I will begin by telling BW that we have a plan
that will require his personal involvement, direction, and support. I will tell
him he has to be involved in communicating the empowerment plan. He has
to take the lead in providing the motivation for empowerment. BW will be
needed to educate all employees on the need for empowerment and the way
to empowerment. Finally, BW will be personally involved in the
administration of the empowerment plan. This includes the implementation,
tracking, controlling, and tweaking the plan.” Said Pat.
“Pat. I believe that I understand, believe, and agree with everything that
you’ve said in the last two hours. I’m knowing and willing. In fact, now I
may be approaching the state of being Unknowing and Willing.” Said Trent.
“That is a pretty dangerous situation if you’re letting this late hour push your
decision-making. It is how mistakes are made Trent.” Said Pat.
“Honestly, I’m with you Pat. This time with you has really helped me see
how some well-planned and executed empowerment can enhance the
potential for achieving expectations at home and on the job. Tell me what
you expect me to do tomorrow.”
Confidence and Competence Levels
“Trent, tomorrow I want to see your confidence and competence in
employee empowerment grow. You can demonstrate this for me by asking
relevant questions, sharing personal experiences, and emphasizing key
points during ‘our’ presentation.” Said Pat.
“Oh. You want me to be an ‘active listener and participant’ don’t you.”
“Trent, it is a reward to a trainer when training is remembered. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Pat. I always remember things that work for me. I’ll see
you at 7:45 am tomorrow in the Board Room.” Said Trent. “That
supervisor is going places, I’ll tell you.” Said Pat to the empty room.
“Tomorrow morning, I get to test my latest confidence and competence
model on a new subject and a new situation. Trent seemed to really relate
to all the concepts I presented to him. My confidence in him, relative to the
Empowerment Plan, is predictably greater than his confidence in himself at
this point. But, he is a committed partner to improvements for employees.
For this, I thank you, Jesus.” Said Pat later that evening as she closed her
eyes to sleep.
Empowerer Control and Empoweree Confidence and Competence
Low Empoweree Confidence and Competence High
“How is your confidence and competence for the presentation of our
empowerment plan this morning.” Asked Pat. “Pat, it is pretty low on both
counts. What am I to do?” Replied Trent. “Ask relevant questions, share
personal experiences, and reinforce key points during the presentation. I’ll
handle the rest. You’ll do fine. BW will be impressed. He will push back
on us by asking some good questions. Then he will tell us to go do it.
Remember that I am going to follow the charts from yesterday. There will
be no surprises for you. I will start by telling BW what will be required of
him for empowerment to be successful. You know the communication,
motivation, education, and administration. Then I will push for clarification
around the definition of empowerment by showing the definition of
empower, power and enable. When I get through that, it will be off to the
races with ‘our’ charts from last evening. You stick with your questions,
key points and personal examples. When I see that you are confident of
your competence on a subject I’ll fade into the background. If you seem to
falter at any point, I’ll step back. It is just that simple.” Said Pat.
“Pat, you’re something else. Thanks. When we are finished today I want to
share something personal with you from last evening at home with my
daughter. Now, go to it, and remember that I’m covering your back on this
one.” Said Trent.
“Good morning. Let’s get started.” Intoned BW
How to Decide
Levels of Authority
Authority to decide and act
C C C C
Authority to act but must R
Involve and get approval of others T P P F
I L E I
Communicate decisions to others C E T D
A X E E
Authority to recommend action to L I N N
I T C C
Others T Y E E
“Good morning.” Replied Pat. “BW, Trent and I are ready to go over the
empowerment plan. I want to begin with your role and what we see you
doing to provide direction and support. It all begins with communicating the
what, why, how, and examples of empowerment at MegaCorp. First, we
need clarification around our definition of empowerment. We see that there
can be three levels of authority/empowerment. We could give employees
the authority to decide and act. We could say that employees have the
authority to act but must involve and get the approval of management and
then tell others about the decision. Or, we could say that employees are
limited to recommending actions to others and to management.” “Pat, it
can’t be either, or. It has to be all three with guidelines for deciding the
level of authority. With work that is complex and critical I will want to have
the final say even if you are the expert. Is that clear.” Said BW. “It is very
clear, but what about the sense of dignity and self-esteem of the highly
confident and competent person?” Asked Pat. “That will add merit to the
recommendation which will help me with my decision. But, you make a
good point. Can you add criteria for deciding the level of
authority/empowerment which considers the criticality and complexity of
the work as well as the competence and confidence of the employee? Said
BW. “You got it.” Said Pat as she charted.
Two hours later.
“Well, Pat and Trent, you’ve convinced me with your logic and experience
on this one. We’ll do it your way. Just point me to my position and give me
my cue. But, first let me tell you something. Trent, my boy, your pointed
questions, personal anecdotes, and clarification of the key points won me
over. Personally, some of Pat’s stuff is just to academic for me. I get
goosey with all this touchy feely stuff. It don’t help me none when you
can’t show me the bottom-line either. Believe me, in MegaCorp even
nothing is going to cost me something. It helped when you made it real for
me. Now, let me play the Devil’s Advocate.
Trent, how do we decide what to empower people to do.”
“BW, we decide by looking at the business needs and the work that people
do. We empower them to solve their own problems. Then, we’ll develop
them for decision-making, goal-setting, and change.” Replied Trent. “Let
me piggy-back off Trent.” Said Pat. “Our key to success is aligning the
authority/empowerment level with the inputs/processes/output of the work.
The appropriate authority levels will likely be self-evident considering the
Complexity and Criticality of the Work to the level of Competence and
Competence of the Individuals and the Teams. I believe the employees will
guide us here. Human Resources and management, as a back-up, can always
screen empowerment against the work and the employees before moving
forward. This will ensure our highest potential of success.”
BW thought a moment and then spoke. “Well, I want it right 110 percent of
the time. Tell me how you are going to do that to keep me off your backs.”
“BW, we can maximize our efforts by planning to prevent problems and
setting in place triggers for intervening if things don’t look promising.
Problem prevention is our mission, and intervention is our back-up plan.”
“That is not good enough, Pat. This is our company and our people not
some college case study.” BW said forcefully. “BW, my dad used to tell
me that prevention was 16 times more powerful than intervention. So, I
have to believe that Pat is right here and good planning is the key to 110
percent success.” Offered Trent. “Your dad was one of our very best
employees and I considered him a loyal worker and a friend, Trent. But, I
don’t connect the math to prevention and intervention.” Said BW. “You
know, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Replied Trent.
“Boy, you’re better than your dad and he was a mighty fine man. I got it.”
“Well guys, you’re both making me nervous with your talk of 110 percent
success.” Said Pat with a smile.
“Loosen up Pat. You know what I mean.” Replied BW
“One more thing before we go.” Said BW. What about teamwork and how
are we going to empower the individuals and the work teams?” “BW,
thanks for taking us to our next strategy for making empowerment work
through the work teams.” Said Pat. All of our work teams will be taught to
set their own Goals for empowerment expectations, deliverables, and
outcomes. They will identify the necessary Roles with functions, tasks, and
assignments. Next, they will establish Procedures for their own Action
Planning, Meeting Agendas, and Team Administration. Finally, for true
empowerment to occur they have to be responsible and accountable for team
Agreements, team Norms, and team Ground Rules.” Said Pat. “Whoa, girl.
What are you trying to do? Give away the store?” Asked BW. “BW, I need
to tell you how I feel when you speak to me that way. I don’t feel very
good. And I don’t feel appreciated for what I am contributing. It is hard for
me to stay on track, and you can make it easier for me, if you can refrain
from doing it again.” Said Pat. “Pat, you know that I’m just trying to be one
of the boys and impress my boy over there.” Said BW. “BW, I need to tell
you how I feel when you call me your boy.” Said Trent.
“Enough said. I apologize. You both are empowered to call me on it from
this point on. I know it makes me look small. Believe me my ego does not
like feeling small anymore than anyone. Respect goes both ways. Thanks
again.” Said BW.
“Now tell me more about this Intervention.” Said BW.
Well, intervention is a lot of work and a source of stress. There are some
basic things that can be taught which make intervention easier and less
stressful. Here are the things that are fundamental to empowered
employees.” Said Pat as she turned to the next prepared flipchart page.
Two concepts are key for work team success. First, the individuals in the
teams have to be empowered to provide Direction and Control in their daily
shop floor meetings and their regularly scheduled team meetings. They will
need training on meeting management skills. This will include using goals,
roles, procedures and agreements to direct and control their meetings. The
use of planned agendas is essential. The use of the meeting agenda to put
non-agenda items in the “parking lot” for later discussion is a learned
process for maintaining control of the meeting. Second, the teams have to
be empowered to promote their own development. We will need to share
with them the process for identifying and meeting the needs of all
stakeholders, including themselves in a balanced way. For some, we will
have to redirect their focus from people to issues. This will require
intervention modeling from us. We also have to make certain that we
include everyone in the discussion to prevent domination of meetings by
certain team members. And finally, we need to demonstrate in our meetings
with employees that team agreements can be used to address the people
issues that do surface in the team meetings.
“Whoa right here Pat. You can’t just turn people into leaders and managers
by flipping a switch. You’ll set them on each other with this intervention
stuff and we’ll have more action than the World Boxing Association right on
the shop floor.” Said BW.
“You are right again BW and thanks for the segue into how to reduce or
prevent this from happening when feedback is given. If we are serious
about empowering the other employees, we will provide the time to teach
them to be effective evaluators and assessors of behavior and performance.
There are processes for giving feedback for supporting and developing
others.” Pat continued talking while turning to the next prepared flipchart
page. “The most powerful intervention for developing an empowered
person is teaching them effective techniques for Evaluation and Feedback.
The team members will be taught to do it this way.” Pat continued now
reading from the chart.
“That is pretty good stuff Pat. I can remember my dad doing almost exactly
the same thing with me when he was teaching me to drive the family car.”
Said Trent. “Some of our best supervisors use a very similar process with
their employees right on the job. The action planning and scheduled follow-
up is my managing trademark.” Said BW. “How well we know.” Said Pat
and Trent in chorus.
“Pat, I can see you’ve worked really hard and done some really good work
overnight for us. However, it occurs to me that we are talking about a major
change for some of our supervisors. This is going to change their jobs
significantly. How much thought have you given to this? Asked BW.
“Quite a bit.” Said Pat as she turned to the next prepared flipchart page. “I
want to share with you this composite from team meetings with supervisors
that we held. They were pretty vocal about the demands on their time. We
asked them what they were doing and their involvement level. I can see
their frustration with their current situation where practically everything is
High Involvement. We asked them to chart their desired level of
involvement and to give it a name. They called it Leader. You can see their
critical few priorities.” “I agree with the last column. That’s what I thought
we were paying them to do. You couldn’t have done this last night. What
are the middle two columns.” Asked BW.
“You’re right BW. This was done months ago. I thought it was another
waste of time, but now I am glad that Pat took us through the exercise. I
recognize some of my own thinking in the chart. The middle two columns
are stages that we think we will have to go through to get from supervisor to
leader. Let me tell you, many of the supervisors said they would like to see
the changes because it would free them to work on more important things.
Many of the workers said it would help them be more effective if the
changes were made. It seems a sure bet now that it will lead to a more
empowered work force for MegaCorp. Said Trent. “Thanks.” Said Pat.
“Let me see if I can capture the priorities for empowering our workforce
with a few words. First we have to know our current and desired Situation.
The information from the supervisors is a good starting point for
empowering change. Second, as Trent said we have to be business driven
and needs focused. This means that what ever we do has to be good for the
Organization and all of it’s stakeholders. Third, the operating Environment
has to be considered with regard to the criticality and complexity of the
work. This includes the prevailing competitive and regulatory conditions of
our business. Fourth, we have to consider the competence and confidence of
every Individual in every team. “ Said BW.
“Sometimes you amaze me, BW. You hit the proverbial nails on their heads
again.” Said Pat.
“Flattery will get you no where in this meeting.” Jostled BW. “You’re not
getting out of here without explaining how and when the employees will get
all of this empowerment training and meeting time. That’s where the rubber
meets the road I know. And its ringing up the dollars in my register.” Said
“Very astute. We will begin by attending the existing team meetings to
explore the climate for change area by area. We’ll ask ‘how do you feel
about what you are doing?’ and ‘what would you do differently?’ ” Said
Pat. “I know where you’re going with this one and I support it. Please
continue.” Said BW.
“In these meetings we’ll talk about guidelines for daily start-up meetings
and working team meetings. That way we’ll minimize our impact on their
schedules. We won’t impose meeting guidelines on them. We’ll simply
offer suggestions, but we will follow-up within two weeks of meeting with
them to see if they’ve tried any of our suggestions. This is a training
approach that I call applied integrated learning. It is very effective with
adult learners because they feel they have some input and control. The
guidelines for the daily startup meeting are as follows.” Said Pat as she
read from the chart.
“The working team meeting guidelines are as follows.” Said Pat as she
flipped to the next pre-drawn flipchart and began reading.
“Well, I like the meeting guidelines. God only knows what a five minute
start-up meeting will save us in reducing the wasted time before each shift.”
“Now, wait a minute BW. You’ve said yourself that these meetings have
saved our hides on a number of occasions. Remember just last week when it
was discovered that the wrong components had been delivered to J line?
And, didn’t you just tell us at the last Town Hall meeting that you had seen
employees contribute more to the company in problem-solving meetings
than they could have done in production in the equivalent time? Asked
“You’re right not to let me get away with having it both ways, Trent. Yes, it
will be beneficial to MegaCorp to enhance our meeting effectiveness. We’ll
have to work it out with the Production Schedulers. Daily start-up meetings
and Working Team Meetings have my endorsement. Can you work with Pat
to do it this applied integrated training way so we don’t have to set up
special meetings with everyone just to tell them about the guidelines?”
“Of course I can. I can even go one better. I can start sharing information
about our meetings and the empowerment plan with others. If that is ok
with you and Pat.” Said Trent. “Fine with me.” Said Pat. “And me.” Said
“Regarding your concerns for meeting effectiveness, I have a facilitation
technique that greatly enhances full participation in idea generation and
ownership in teams. It also greatly increases the number of ideas while
reducing the time required. I’ll want to teach it to all the teams. This is how
it works.” Said Pat as she flipped the chart.
“Idea generation leads to decisions. What is best for MegaCorp? Where do
we get the greatest return on the investment of our time? We can also use
the idea generating technique to teach group decision making. This is how it
works.” Said Pat as she continued with the next chart.
“Enhanced meeting effectiveness, facilitated idea and decision
empowerment, and involved team members will empower MegaCorp to beat
the competition. It will help us to achieve the Balance, Leverage and
Synergy that we need for the twenty-first century.” Said BW. “It seems like
some self-fulfilling prophesy. If you think you can’t. You probably won’t.
But, if you think you can you probably will. It is just like that little red
“You’re getting philosophical on me BW. We can, if, our little red engine
stays on the right track, headed in the right direction, at a speed just a little
bit faster than the next little red engine behind us. The point of
empowerment is to help us leverage the knowledge, skills, and abilities of
everyone at MegaCorp and our stakeholders to continuously improve what
we do with our products and services.” Said Pat. “You’re telling me that we
already have enough individual, team, and organizational experience to do
this. Right.” Said BW. “Right. The next couple of charts show a collective
level of understanding among the employees. Let me show you.” Said Pat.
“This chart is a composite of existing employee knowledge about our
stakeholders. We gathered it in team meetings and one on one interviews
over the last couple of months. It got started when issues over the latest
compensation and benefits plan began to surface. We had to meet with the
employees to talk about what we had done and why. From experience, I
know that logic cannot win a debate with illogic, and vice versa. So, my
approach is to get the facts on the table using the involved parties. I began
these sessions by asking ‘what do you want from MegaCorp?’ You can see
the compiled responses listed under individuals. Then, I proceeded to ask
‘who else wants something from MegaCorp. I got lots of answers but was
able to involve employees in grouping them into Groups and Teams,
Organization and Shareholders, and our Customers. Then, I asked ‘what do
you think they want?” Said Pat.
“Let me tell you. It was just like having a light go on in the meetings when
Pat charted the information she was gathering. It first felt like being painted
into a corner to me personally when I could see that the needs and wants of
the stakeholder groups were often in conflict with each other. Then, almost
immediately it was as if the anger and frustration was purged when Pat
asked my team what’s the key. The answer is obvious that balancing needs
and wants is key.” Offered Trent.
“You’re telling me that the employees came up with this. I’ve never seen
such a logical explanation of how to stay in business and make the business
grow. To tell the truth, it doesn’t look easy to me.” Said BW. “That’s the
point BW. Everyone can see that it takes good, hard work to balance the
needs and wants of MegaCorps stakeholders. When the light goes on with
individuals and teams, my next question is ‘how do we do it and what can
happen as a result? The answers always help me lead the group to the
conclusion that we have to leverage the knowledge, skills, and abilities of all
our stakeholders. This is how we achieve synergy. When, as you said, the
whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Said Pat. “I feel as if I have
been empowered with information for critical decision-making for
MegaCorp.” Said BW.
“Most employees feel that way too when they see it charted this way. This
enables them to move forward with their thinking with a more positive
attitude. Here are a couple of examples of group think around stakeholder
needs.” Said Pat as she flipped to the next chart.
“It is not unusual for Human Resources to hear of conflict between
individuals and teams. It is almost a godsend for me to be able to use
employee input to show that our job is to achieve balance as best we can.
Employees usually quickly realize that it is a never ending job.” Said Pat.
“Most can relate it to their personal lives. I’ve heard team members say
things like ‘that is just how it is around the dinner table with the family. It
helps me deal with my own negative thinking in a better way when I can see
my own thoughts and feelings presented like this.” Said Trent.
“The employees also came up with this chart on consequences of imbalance
that negatively impact the Shareholders and MegaCorp as an Organization.”
“You’re telling me that the supervisors and managers told you this.” Said
“I’m telling you that everyone from the newest hire at the hourly level to the
most seasoned executive told me this.” Said Pat.
“Then empowerment is not something new for me to tell the management to
do to the employees. They are self-empowering given the right direction
and support.” Said BW.
“Right. Empowerment is the process of removing the obstacles and barriers
in MegaCorp that violate our individual sense of dignity and self-esteem and
subsequently dis-empower us.” Replied Pat.
“Do the employees know this?” Asked BW.
“Yes.” Replied Pat. “And they know the power they have over the
organization. This doesn’t require a doctorate in Organizational Psychology
to figure out. It is as fundamental to the human condition as escaping pain.
This chart that shows the consequences of employee basic needs not being
met is a foregone conclusion for all our employees. When it is more painful
to stay than to go, they will go.”
“Well, I’ve no intention of letting that happen. I know we can’t make all of
the people happy all of the time, but we can make most of the people happy
most of the time. That chart with the victims on it got me to thinking that
some employees may be better off some place other than MegaCorp. Can
we empower them to leave?” Said BW.
“I wish it was that simple, BW. We can tell everyone our expectations for
performing as an empowered employee at MegaCorp, but we can’t change
their personalities and behavioral preferences. We can give them
information and knowledge to help them make the right decision for them.
The problem with the victim is that they usually have trouble escaping their
own entrapment. Our critical Human Resource objective has to be to
empower each employee to decide to develop into a business partner.” Said
“We can’t give away the business in the process.” Intoned BW.
“You’re right and the employees all recognize that.” Said Pat.
“The last thing I want to see is closing this place.” Said Trent.
“Then, we’ve got to do this thing right.” Said BW.
“As with any journey, we have to know our starting point. From there we
can develop our trip plan and itinerary. Our mission begins with the
realization and confession, so to speak, that we know that we need all
employees to make decisions with sound judgement for the success of
MegaCorp. Our starting point has to be an open and honest dialog with all
employees on our organizational needs.” Said Pat.
“We can gather information with an employee survey. We are ready to go
with the Annual Attitude Survey. What do you think of adding questions
about real, and perceived, needs of the four major groups of stakeholders?”
“This could tell us what our priorities are for empowerment. Could you also
integrate some applied learning around balance, leverage, and synergy?
And, do we try to do it all, or, is there a simpler way?” Asked BW.
“I recently heard a business speaker talk about some concepts that might
help us. Maybe I can pull up the handout and get some useful information
for guiding us. The things that I remember are terms like Critical Gaps,
Killer Gaps, Business Drivers, and my favorite Critical Drivers. Best that I
remember is that Critical Drivers are the few measures that drive all of the
other measures in the business. My understanding is that if you can find the
Critical Drivers, they will help you to manage all of the other measures.”
“That sounds good Trent, but often it is true that it is simple to make things
complex and complex to make things simple. What I’m trying to say is that
it is going to take real commitment to some very hard work to find and
manage the Critical Drivers.” Said Pat.
“So, you’re telling me that we approach empowering the employees in a
planned, structured, systematic, and logical way. It sounds as if we need a
Project Plan for Employee Empowerment with Target Dates for start and
Completion of Actions to address the Situations and issues that we
acknowledge in MegaCorp. Right? Asked BW.
“Yes, and more. The expectations have to be very clearly spelled out for the
Deliverables and Outcomes of the Empowerment Process. To direct and
support achievement of the plan it will be necessary to clearly define
Responsibilities with role, authority, responsibility, and accountability.
Responsibilities have to be supported with identified Resource needs,
sources, and allocations.” Said Pat.
“This is just like a Production Project Plan.” Said Trent.
“You’re right on and I’m convinced that you’re the person to be the Project
Leader.” Said BW. “Right move.” Said Pat. “And Pat will be your
empowerment coach and mentor.” Said BW.
“Thanks.” Chorused Trent and Pat.
You can open your eyes now. That’s the end of the fable of Empowering
MegaCorp. It didn’t really happen, did it? Of course not. It is happening as
you read. You may not recognize MegaCorp, but it is out there competing
with you. You must know and acknowledge it as you head into the 21st
Century with your organization. It’s hard to see the MegaCorps in our
competitive environments. They are leaving the majority of us in their dust
as they speed along the highway to success. In fact, most of the pack cannot
even see MegaCorps tail lights from their perspective. Your next move?
You’re empowered to decide. Empowerment is not the end. It is really just
Postscript What did Trent want to share with Pat after meeting with BW?
Trent wanted to tell Pat. “This stuff really works at home and on the job.
Last night I told my daughter we needed to talk about her driving privileges.
I asked her how she felt about her driving record. She was pretty brutal in
her own assessment. In fact, rather than take her down a notch or two I
found myself lifting her up. When I asked her what needed to be done, she
was pretty much on target. There was very little I could add. I found myself
really providing direction and support for her plan of action. To be honest, I
would have had to set my expectations and conditions a little lower than she
did. Then she said to me, ‘dad, I’m going to need your help.’ All I could
say is ‘I’ll be there for you.”
The moral of the fable of Empowering MegaCorp:
Life is empowering.
The Plan of Action: Go do it.