Agile & Digital / Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

The missing step in empowerment

We come back to the theme of empowerment regularly in our work, finding the right balance of control and empowerment seems to be a challenge everywhere. Many companies even have empowerment as one of their corporate values but even these companies seem to struggle to get the balance right

The fundamental challenge is that everyone likes to feel in control but no one likes to be controlled. If I’m in control it feels like empowerment, if you are in control it feels like micromanagement. The real question is where should control be exercised.

In general, we find that the closer to the action that control is exercised, the more effective control is. If control is delayed or escalated this always adds cost and rarely leads to better control.

When we talk to leaders about empowerment and decentralising control, they all nod and agree. Anyone with any kind of management education in the last 40 years knows that empowerment is the right answer.

However, when we ask them to commit to changing the formal mechanisms of control, they start to get much less comfortable. We ask them to find a process that requires approval and either reduce or eliminate the need for approval. We suggest they double the financial authority that their people have to spend (if you have to seek approval to spend the money you need to do your job you are not really empowered). We ask them to step out of their regular review meetings and allow reviews to happen one more level further down the organisation.

Reviews, approvals, delegation of authority levels etc. what we call the “carriers of control”. You can do all the training in the skills of enabling empowerment that you like, you can encourage leaders to empower others and have empowerment as one of your corporate values. But if you do not relax the carriers of control, then true empowerment remains elusive.

What power and control can you give up? Take the next step towards really empowering your people.

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