Empowering Bosses

For most companies, their most valuable yet underutilized resource is their people. While many business owners and managers espouse that they want their people to take more initiative and “get their skin in the game,” it’s surprising how few actually give their people the authority and support to do so.

In an empowered organization, employees take personal responsibility for the day-to-day running of the business under appropriate leadership direction. Effective leaders delegate and empower talented employees, coaching them to use discretion and good judgment when faced with obstacles and opportunities. The happiest, most satisfied and productive employees that I coach are those who are empowered and have some level of autonomy and responsibility over what they do.

Unfortunately, the notion of empowerment for many leaders is a double-edged sword. While bosses want their employees to take responsibility for getting results, they often fail to give them the necessary resources, support and decision-making authority to actually accomplish their objectives. Bosses reluctant to provide their people more autonomy often either lack confidence in themselves (or others), or have control issues.

Is there risk in delegating decision-making authority? Of course. But if you’ve got the right person with the right skills and are giving them what they need to be successful (with clear parameters), the risk should be acceptable and minimal.

Jack Welch, former GE CEO and author of “Winning” (a book I recommend), once sent out a letter to shareholders stating, “If you want to get the benefit of everything employees have … you’ve got to free them so they can make the right decisions by themselves.”

For many years, customer-service-driven Nordstrom had a one-rule employee handbook (actually, it was a 5-by-8 card) that read, “We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them. Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1 Use good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.”

Seattle-based Nordstrom provides a great example of how to empower. From day one, employees were told they were appreciated and trusted to make good decisions. Management set clear expectations “to provide outstanding customer service.” My experience as a Nordstrom customer has been consistent. Employees have the latitude to do the right thing by the customer, and display a genuine “I care” attitude. This cultural example stands in sharp contrast to the extreme levels of micromanagement pervasive in other companies (and often poor customer service).

An option for many “traditional autocratic” companies is to act like their smaller counterparts — uncluttered, with minimal politics and mind-numbing meaningless processes. Small-company cultures tend to encourage entrepreneurial behaviors, autonomy and individual creativity toward making things happen.

What leaders can do:

  • Set expectations for performance and empower employees to make decisions they need to succeed. We are all being asked to do more with less. Managers need to understand their employees need to make more decisions with less of their day-to-day involvement. Delegate with clear parameters of freedom (budget, resources, etc).
  • Eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and decision-making approval processes. Remove things that get in your people’s way of doing what’s right for the business (and what you’ve asked them to do). Give them access to the information, feedback, authority and resources they need.
  • Bosses are responsible for setting employee priorities and expectations. Bosses should work hard to create a culture where their employees feel safe coming to them for direction and clarification when they are overloaded or confused by competing or conflicting priorities (particularly those that come from other managers who aren’t their boss).
  • Be supportive of decisions your front-line (customer contact) employees make to keep customers happy. A less-than-perfect decision resulting in a happy customer is markedly better than losing a customer because of an employee who has no power to make a decision. Don’t renege on an employee’s commitment to a customer; it’s bad for business and employee morale.
  • Continually engage employees in improving how things get done in the organization. Train, teach and coach them to make bigger and better decisions without you.
  • As a leader, keep your eye on the big picture versus getting mired in the small stuff. (Do you really need to approve that $100 line item?)

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and coaching abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com

Adaptability for Career and Business Success

DARWIN’S WORDS, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change,” are highly relevant for today’s business climate. Thriving in today’s complex, dynamic and turbulent marketplace will require new adaptive approaches.

Ever wondered why some organizations embrace change, making it through tough times, while others fail? The answer lies in their resiliency.

A resilient organization is one that can effectively innovate, adapt and perform in the face of adversity (not just in good times). Resilient organizations often bounce back even stronger when stressed versus being flattened by their own inability to change.

Adaptive and resilient organizations have several characteristics in common:

  • Clear, unrelenting focus around purpose and goals.
  • Flexibility and openness to new approaches, roles and ways of getting work done.
  • A climate of learning, creativity and a proactive approach to finding opportunities to improve (even when stressed).
  • Trust, cooperation and open communication.
  • Senior leaders open to employees’ input and influence.

In contrast, rigid, bureaucratic organizations with choking politics, “red tape” and a control-oriented leadership mentality will often fail to adapt effectively when faced with hardships. In general, the greater the bureaucracy, the greater the difficulty responding to challenges, like trying to turn the Titanic around to miss the iceberg. Rigid bureaucracy is frequently the biggest impediment to agility. Words like, “It’s always been done this way,” or, “not in my job description” can stop needed responsiveness and innovation in its tracks.

Leadership is key to improving any organization’s resiliency. Though creating a resilient organization won’t happen overnight, here are some guidelines:

  • Don’t lose sight of core competencies. Address these questions: What are the business/team “strengths” and strategic advantages? What is working in your favor that you can build on? How can the team leverage the fundamentals that make your team and business strong?
  • Examine work processes and the “big picture” to encourage responsiveness in the face of changing conditions. How and where does communication flow (or not)? Are there bottlenecks? What does it take to get a decision? Is there duplication? Are we burdening people with too much information or checkoffs? Focus on simplifying and “clearing the path.”
  • Empower those on the “front line” to do the right thing for customers (they are a valuable asset in these troubled times) and the business. Experienced, motivated employees can make it happen as long as the business hasn’t burdened them with onerous approval processes or red tape that gets in their way. A responsibility of management is to make sure employees have the information and materials they need (in a timely manner) to do their jobs.
  • Nurture and sustain a workplace culture that supports agility. Being able to seize opportunities and adapt quickly in this uncertain economy may mean the difference between success or failure. Not being able to change course quickly was the end of the Titanic. Reward risk takers, out-of-the-box thinkers and those who “get it done.” Be on the lookout for analysis paralysis.
  • Hire for adaptability so you can redirect roles if necessary. Re-examine work that employees are doing while identifying their strengths and skills. Is it work that still makes sense? This may require employees to cross train, share resources or assume other duties as required.
  • Foster organizational learning. Treat errors as learning opportunities. It’s OK to be wrong and change course as long as we learn from the past to create a preferred future. Don’t expect things to work perfectly when innovating (studies show it often takes a second or third try for the best solution).
  • Nurture and sustain creativity. Poorly managed brainstorming stifles creativity. Leaders often blow it by tainting the well, offering their own ideas first. Make it safe for people to offer ideas in an open, nonjudgmental atmosphere. Encourage wild ideas. Don’t allow the naysayers to stymie or silence those with ideas.
  • Establish outlets for people to process the stress of change. Wise leaders will respond with empathy and listening to understand the challenges and concerns of their people.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your career coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and emotional intelligence abilities.  I coach professionals all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com