The 3 Keys to Empowerment: Release the Power Within People for Astonishing Results

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As Ken Blanchard, John Carlos, and Alan Randolph clearly demonstrated in their previous bestseller, Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute, empowerment is not a goal that can be achieved in a minute. Empowerment is a process that requires ongoing effort, awareness, and commitment to transforming the hierarchy. This essential guide offers managers detailed, hands-on answers to their real-life questions about how, exactly, they can navigate the journey to empowerment. Written in an easily accessible Q&A format, the book closely examines and expands on the three keys to empowerment originally presented in Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute-sharing information, creating autonomy through boundaries, and replacing the hierarchy with teams. It clearly outlines the promises and challenges of each stage of the journey, providing managers with thought-provoking questions, clear advice, effective activities, and action tools that will help them create a culture of empowerment. Wherever they are in the journey, managers will find a clear roadmap in this user-friendly action guide.

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CHAPTER 1: Releasing the Power within People

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Empowerment. Can it work for you, or is it just another buzzword for the ages? We believe that empowerment (which we link with team member involvement, ownership, responsibility, proprietary interest, and pride) is crucial for companies to be competitive in today’s business world and certainly in the world of tomorrow. Literally, for companies to succeed in the new world of business, team members must feel that they own their jobs and that they have key roles. And many of the most successful and admired companies in the world agree.

A variety of external challenges have paved the way for forces of change to bombard people and their organizations from all sides. First, customers have developed very high expectations regarding quality, price, and service. The feeling is that if your company cannot meet their needs, they will find another company that can. Second, these pressures from customers must be managed in light of the need to remain 4 profitable. There is always the danger of providing what the customer wants while undercutting margins to the point of risking company viability. Third, the forces of change brought on by global competition, new technologies, and customer mind shifts mean that whatever was outstanding last year may be ordinary this year. The bar is continually being raised, and unless your company and its people can jump over it, a competitor will gladly take your place. Fourth, the members of today’s work force are quite different from those of the past. They have a tremendous potential for growth and development but an impatience for controlling their own destinies. There is an ongoing need to create greater trust between team members and leaders so that people can and will put forth their best efforts to act with responsibility in a context of freedom and so that leaders can and will allow their team members to act with responsibility and freedom.

 

STAGE ONE: JOURNEY STARTING AND ORIENTING THE JOURNEY

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Given that empowerment (releasing the power within people) leads to astonishing results, leaders want to know how to start the journey to empowerment. Indeed, they usually want to know how to get there by yesterday. Unfortunately, the journey takes a little more time than that. This first stage of the process of changing to empowerment is filled with excitement combined with anxiety and a lack of knowledge of what empowerment means for the behaviors of everyone involved. According to Situational Leadership® II, this stage is a time for providing clear direction to focus people’s natural but naive enthusiasm. There are many new skills to learn, and clear leadership is the key to meeting the needs people have.

In this section, we will focus on Starting and Orienting the Journey to empowerment. We will explore how each of the three keys to empowerment can help in meeting this initial challenge. Our format will be to pose questions that leaders often have about changing to empowerment and then provide one or more answers in short paragraphs. We will also insert examples from actual organizational experiences with the empowerment process. The first key we will focus on is information sharing, since it is the best way to really kick-start the process of change. We will then explore the other two keys to empowerment: creating autonomy through boundaries, and letting teams replace the hierarchy. Remember, it is vital to use all three keys to successfully move forward with the change to empowerment. So let us turn to information sharing as the critical first key in the process.

 

CHAPTER 4: Key #2: Declare Clear Boundaries to Begin Creating Autonomy

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Once information sharing has “primed the pump” for change by enhancing both the feeling of job ownership and responsibility in team members and the trust between leaders and their people, it is important to recognize the need to provide boundaries for acting in a culture of empowerment. Most people have an initial excitement about empowerment and the expectation to use good judgment, but they do not fully understand what that will mean or what to do. According to Situational Leadership® II, high levels of frustration and/or apathy will quickly follow initial reactions if there are no boundaries that provide direction for acting in a culture of empowerment. Before we talk specifically about the what, 76 when, where, and how of boundaries, it is helpful to appreciate the magnitude of the journey to empowerment.

With this appreciation of the paradox of creating autonomy of action through new boundaries to guide action, let us turn to addressing some of the more specific questions people have about using boundaries to create autonomy, especially early in the journey to empowerment. As we do, please keep in mind that the intent of boundaries in a culture of empowerment is not to restrict action (as it is in a hierarchy) but rather to create freedom to act within defined responsibilities.

 

CHAPTER 5: Key #3: Begin Developing Teams to Replace the Hierarchy

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In beginning the journey to empowerment, it is important to remember that all three keys are crucial for effectively creating a culture of empowerment. Information sharing sets the stage for change, while boundaries provide the framework for acting with autonomy. What is missing, to truly get the journey going, is a mechanism that uses human interaction to provide the direction and support needed to best use and develop the talents that people have and will acquire. Self-directed teams provide the vehicle for this missing human interaction.

Teams help people address some of the personal concerns they have at this early stage of the process of changing to empowerment. People will have questions such as, 102

While teams can provide answers to these questions, it is important to know that teams—especially self-directed, empowered teams—take time to develop. Hence, in this early stage of Starting and Orienting the Journey to empowerment, we cannot initially expect great results from the teams. An effective leader who guides and develops the team may still be important in this early stage of change. We know from our discussion of Situational Leadership® II and teams in chapter 2 that teams go through four distinct stages in the development process. First is the team development stage of Orientation. Here the level of capability, related to “how to work together as a team,” is low, while the level of team morale to “work together as a team” is naively high. The team needs a great deal of direction, particularly in clarifying its purpose, values, roles, goals, and operating procedures. This is the team development stage that is prevalent during the first stage of the change process (Starting and Orienting the Journey). Let us consider some of the questions people typically have about teams at this early stage in the empowerment journey.103

 

STAGE TWO: CHANGE AND DISCOURAGEMENT

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Once the process of the change to empowerment is underway, an interesting and stressful phenomenon invariably occurs. The reality of the challenge of reaching empowerment is always more difficult than expected. Everyone underestimates just how hard it will be to change old hierarchical habits to take on the new habits of empowerment. Furthermore, people also underestimate the difficulty of changing organizational systems that have been created to support a hierarchical organization to systems that support empowerment.

In this section, we will focus on this stage of Change and Discouragement. As in the first stage, we will explore how each of the three keys to empowerment can facilitate getting through this time, when many people just want to give up and go back to where they were before. Situational Leadership® II will provide a framework for guiding us to the right use of the three keys. Focusing on the three keys will furnish us the specifics. Again, our format will be to pose questions that leaders and team members tend to have about changing to empowerment when they are discouraged and in the midst of change. We will provide answers on how to get through a period that feels like being in free fall while sky diving in clouds. The plane is only a comforting memory, and the ground is not yet in sight. (And where is that ripcord, anyway?)

 

CHAPTER 6: Key #1: Share More Information and Listen for Information

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In an era of speed and quickness, we often hear people express frustration at how long change takes. Once a commitment is made to empowerment, everybody wants to reach the goal without having to make the journey. Like small children on a holiday trip, people seem to be asking, Are we there yet? The problem is that the change to empowerment from the hierarchical mind-set of the past involves the incorporation of significantly different ideas. We must, therefore, anticipate points of frustration and disappointment along the journey to empowerment. Following are some of the typical questions that can be expected at this stage of the change process.128

EFFECTIVE PRAISING

REMEMBER, EVEN E-MAIL PRAISE IS

BETTER THAN NO PRAISE;

VOICE MAIL CAN BE NICE AS WELL;

FACE TO FACE IS STILL THE BEST!

We now have some ideas about how to use information sharing and related actions to help people deal with the frustration of this second stage of the change process to empowerment. This Change and Discouragement stage is natural, but it is also quite discomforting to everyone involved. And it is a time when many companies and their leadership abandon the empowerment efforts. We, of course, have two other keys that can help people get through this rough stage. So let us turn next to discuss and respond to questions about using 152 the second key to empowerment—create autonomy through boundaries—to assist in combating the frustration of this crucial and frustrating second stage of change.

 

CHAPTER 7: Key #2: Widen the Boundaries to Create More Autonomy and Responsibility

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Because the world of empowerment is so foreign to people in most organizations, it is easy to begin to feel lost somewhere along the journey from hierarchy to empowerment. The mileposts to progress become unclear, creating a need to reestablish the guidelines for acting in a culture of empowerment. The initial excitement about the journey becomes bogged down in the valley of discouragement. People need to be reminded where they are going and how to get there. Being lost is never a comfortable feeling. Being in free fall between the security of hierarchy and the responsibility of empowerment is even more uncomfortable. Some people in the organization will want to give up at this point, and this is precisely the time when more focus and responsibility are 154 needed. Some of the questions people will have are along the lines of those that follow.

An information services company took a rather bold step at this stage of the change-to-empowerment process. Senior leadership took the position that employees with increased information at their disposal could now identify and define some of their own goals in collaboration with their leaders. Of the five to eight performance goals that were typical for team members, the leaders instructed members to try to develop three to four of those goals themselves. At first there was some confusion, but team members quickly came to like the idea since it explicitly utilized their input and made them feel a sense of ownership. The team leaders liked it too because it helped them shoulder the burden of identifying and defining the goals that were critical to the performance of the unit. What followed was a collaborative discussion during which all of the goals were refined to be SMART, that is, Specific, Motivational, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable.

 

CHAPTER 8: Key #3: Let Teams Take on More of the Hierarchical Roles

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During the discouragement stage of changing to empowerment, people may feel very alone, seemingly unaware that others all around them are experiencing the same concerns. Some of the issues and questions that will be going through their minds are as follows:

It is interesting to note that everyone experiences many of these same feelings, although each person thinks he or she is alone in the disillusionment. Unfortunately, the voices that tend to be heard most often during this stage are the voices of those with negative attitudes about the change to empowerment. The valley of discouragement is deep and the sides of the valley are steep. Sometimes it is hard to see how to get out, and this uncertainty applies to both team members and leaders. The solution lies with the team members and leaders, but in changing to empowerment people tend to have many questions about how teams can help.

In one company in the information services industry, the teams made a conscious effort to identify the talents of each team member. They called it a team assets inventory, and the result was made public to all team members. Then when issues arose that related to a particular expertise, the appropriate person was encouraged by the team leader to take a leadership role in working on that issue. The team members were reluctant to use their talents until others on the team began to add their words of encouragement. With the stage set for sharing leadership, more and more team members began to recognize when they could make a contribution and began to step forward, sometimes with ideas or suggestions and at other times simply with words of encouragement and praise for others.

 

STAGE THREE: ADOPTING AND REFINING EMPOWERMENT

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As the process of changing to empowerment enters the third stage of Adopting and Refining Empowerment, the new values, practices, and attitudes start to be fully integrated. At this point it is often tempting for people to reduce their attention to the process and assume that all will be well from now on. The assumption is that empowerment can be put on autopilot, but to do so would seriously jeopardize all the efforts to this point. There still remain a number of questions in the minds of people, plus the need to refine and hone the empowerment skills that are not yet habits.

This honing of skills is much like the development of any new habit; take golf, for example. When you decide to adopt a new stance for hitting your approach shots, you go through a period of “letting go” or “unlearning” your old stance, which felt quite natural even if it was not too effective. As you begin to adopt the new stance, it is at first something you have to think about every time you stand over an approach shot. Eventually, with a great deal of practice at the driving range as well as on the golf course, you begin to take up the new stance without having to think about it. At this point you have adopted a new habit, but as long as you have to think about it every time you make an approach shot, you have still not arrived at the point of integration of the new stance.

 

CHAPTER 9: Key #1: Enhance Information Sharing to Drive Performance

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For most people involved in the change-to-empowerment process, this third stage, Adopting and Refining Empowerment, comes as a breath of fresh air after the difficult stage of Change and Discouragement. And it is tempting for people to take their eyes off the vision of full empowerment, which is focused not only on involvement but also on responsibility and results. Empowered organizations involve far greater responsibility for everyone. They involve people voicing their opinions, disagreeing with each other, arguing for their positions, and feeling the pressure of performance responsibility. They also involve people feeling a sense of ownership, being listened to and understood, and making use of and further 202 developing their talents. Sometimes people focus too heavily on these positives as they try to distance themselves from the previous stage of discouragement. The thought of the more uncomfortable aspects of being empowered is a little scary for some people, though they may have trouble voicing those concerns.

 

CHAPTER 10: Key #2: Incorporate Boundaries into Everyone’s Value System

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All along the journey to empowerment we have had to be aware of utilizing the three keys as a package to promote change. This final stage is no different from the first two, except that now more of the guidance from boundaries comes from within the people. People are now asking for the information they need and making good use of that information. The boundaries that guide behavior in the empowered culture are much wider than at the beginning of the journey. The challenge is to take the last step of incorporating the boundaries fully into the value systems of the people in the organization. Managers have come a long way toward becoming team leaders, just as the people have progressed far toward being team members. That is not to suggest, 220 however, that boundaries are no longer needed to guide autonomous actions. Rather, it is to suggest that the locus of the boundaries needs to be moved as much as possible into the hands and minds of the team members. Let us turn to responding to the questions that are typically on the minds of people at this stage of the journey to empowerment.

 

CHAPTER 11: Key #3: Let Teams Replace the Hierarchy

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As we are now in this final stage of the journey to empowerment, we want to make full use of the power of replacing the hierarchy with self-directed teams to achieve full empowerment. During the first two stages of the change process, the teams have gone through a period of Orientation where they were trying to determine what it would mean to be part of an empowered team. They have also gone through a period of Dissatisfaction where team members wondered if they would not be better off working as individuals in this new empowerment culture. Entering this final stage of changing to empowerment, the teams are coming to Integration, where they have resolved the issues that have held them back from becoming an empowered team. They are gelling as a team capable of extremely high levels of performance. Indeed, they are reaching the stage of Production, where they can take on many of the roles that management 236 performs in a traditional hierarchy. The questions that remain revolve around these final steps to self-directed status and concern refining and reinforcing what the teams are capable of doing. Let us explore some of the questions that are typical of this stage of the process and that relate to the teams.

 

CONCLUSION A LOOK BACK (AND FORWARD) AT THE JOURNEY

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Wow! What a journey to empowerment. Looking back, the challenges have been great, but the resolve has been even greater. Eventually, everyone has pulled together to make the journey possible and to reach the destination of empowerment. As we look back through this book, we can now more fully understand just how involving and challenging it is to make the change from a hierarchical mind-set to a culture of empowerment, accountability, team pride, and job ownership. To leave the comfort zone of the hierarchy and move toward the unknown takes a vision, a faith in what it will mean to be empowered, and a continued effort over many months to finally arrive at a new comfort zone in the world of empowerment.

In looking back over the journey we have described in this book, we can also look forward to your journey. In this final section, we compile everything into an action plan for creating empowerment. Our hope is that this plan will provide you both perspective and inspiration to begin and/or keep moving on the journey to empowerment.

 

CHAPTER 12: Summarizing the Action Plan For Creating Empowerment

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The journey to empowerment is one of the most challenging any set of people can undertake. It challenges and calls upon us to change many of our most basic assumptions about organizations. Furthermore, there is no one way to move from hierarchy to empowerment. Each company and its people will be different. Indeed, each manager and set of employees within a company will be different. What we have tried to provide in this book is a set of guidelines for navigating the journey. We have provided descriptions of many of the kinds of actions that will help in the change process. And in so doing, we have provided answers to many of the questions that leaders and team members have about moving to empowerment.

To make the change takes real commitment and effort, but it also helps to have an action plan to guide the efforts of 250 everyone involved. Indeed, it may be essential to a successful journey. It is critical to recognize that any organizational change will go through various stages if it is to be successful. As we have described in detail, the three stages of change are

 

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