come and go, but some are there to stay. Empowerment is not a new invention in
management practice and theory, yet it isn’t out-of-date by any means. In fact,
there are probably huge amounts of underutilized potential in organizations,
waiting to be unleashed through empowerment of capable individuals. Facing the
intense competition from developing economies, companies in the developed
countries need to make most of every brain they’ve hired. Also employees in
these countries expect more from their working life than simply “trading” eight
hours a day for cash.
Why, then, hasn’t
every organization gone “empowered” already?
Based on years of
work on the topic, Jeremy Hope, Peter Bunce and Franz Röösli present a modern
management model in their book “The Leader’s Dilemma – How to Build an
Empowered and Adaptive Organization Without Losing Control”. They argue that
the so-called “command and control” model, based on top-down strategies and
targets and control through detailed budgets, rules and reports has come to an
alternative model, organizations are seen as webs of unpredictable relationships
where the whole system determines the performance – as opposed to predictable
cause-and-effect relationships between the parts of the system. Moreover,
organizations are self-organizing and self-regulating, with change seen rather
integrative and adaptive than project-based and reactive.
contend that most leaders willingly agree the superiority of the alternative
model, but are stuck in the old models of command and control, based on the
mechanistic view of the organization as an obedient machine. They suggest
twelve practical principles that would help organizations in adopting the new
model. The tough part is, as the writers argue, that in order to be successful
you can’t pick your favorite principles only, so we’ll need to take a look at
each of them...
#1 – Values: Bind people to a common cause, not
a central plan.
While making a
profit is a prerequisite for a company’s existence, it is hardly sufficient as
the company’s sole purpose. Admittedly, no company can exist without investors
of some kind, and their main interest is making a profit – but they are not the
only stakeholder needed. Truly, how many of us dream of, or describe as a main
achievement in our career, the generation of shareholder value?
purpose needs to be tied to social or community values that have a real meaning
to the employees, such as making a change in the industry, satisfying the
customer, being the best or simply doing a good job. This purpose must be
clearly and constantly communicated in every possible way and even more
importantly, the company has to live up to its values, which sometimes means
sacrificing short-term profitability. There is often a conflict of interest
between this and an investor (or employee), who wants to cash in with the
company quickly and then move on with something else.
In my view the
purpose of the company, and whether the company lives and breathes that
purpose, must be made more visible. It should be built into the valuation of
the company, as well as into rewarding systems of its management. This may be
the most abstract of the principles, but important to get right, as it is the
foundation for everything else.
Governance: Govern through shared values and sound judgment, not detailed rules
enterprises have detailed risk management policies, internal audits and
rulebooks. Yet disasters like the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion, and
fraud scandals like Enron happen. The authors argue that detailed rules and
regulation give only an illusion of control, not the best possible risk
The better way
would be to come up with and share throughout the organization clear
strategies, values and desired behaviors, make information available to support
decision-making and empower people to make judgments and assume responsibility
of their actions. The authors emphasize the right kind of management and board,
with a deep understanding of the company and its values, reasonable
compensation and promoted from within the company rather than from the outside.
Transparency: Make information open and transparent, don’t restrict and control
We’ve come to an
era, where restricting information is getting very difficult. It should not be
the target, either. The book makes a point that in organizations, where most
information is openly shared, people are more prepared to face even the tough
decisions and act on the best interests of the company. Transparency of
information increases speed, responsiveness, learning and innovation of the
transparency means that the information is also unambiguous, instantly
available and understandable for everyone. Also the bad news should be openly
shared – “don’t shoot the messenger”!
#4 – Teams:
Organize around a network of accountable teams, not centralized functions.
Hope, Bunce and
Röösli turn the organizational hierarchy “on its side”, with frontline teams as
“value centers”. These value centers are responsible for their defined customer
segment, product group, geography or similar, and have the authority to act
within their responsibility area. The support teams, in turn, are responsible
for providing their services to the frontline teams at the lowest possible unit
cost. Additionally, there is the executive team, whose job is not to dictate,
but to set the boundaries to other teams, and coach and challenge them to think
better ways of working.
#5 – Trust:
Trust teams to regulate and improve their performance; don’t micro-manage them.
The authors claim
that empowerment cannot be “given” – it has to be taken by people who really
believe that they can make decisions. Another important notion is that freedom
must come with the capability to make decisions, and with accountability for
the consequences. However, when leaders trust their people and allow them also
to make mistakes, the trust will start building up in both directions, and
teams getting more capable of managing themselves.
Accountability: Base accountability on holistic criteria and peer reviews, not
on hierarchical relationships.
“It’s not in my
job description” is a common defense at many workplaces and means that the
mysterious “someone else” is accountable. The authors conclude that only people
can be accountable, not systems, machines or processes. The way to initiate
real accountability is to ensure that the value center teams are responsible
for satisfying the customer, and the support teams responsible for helping them
in that. Rather than evaluating each individual against a detailed job
description, the teams should be evaluated on a holistic criteria that takes
into account all the key aspects of success.
#7 – Goals:
Set ambitious medium-term goals, not short-term negotiated targets.
The usual way of
setting targets is through negotiated budgets. Growth of revenues and profits
is assumed year-on-year, with managers pushing for higher figures, and
subordinates sandbagging to get a performance target that is easy to reach.
Once the target has been sent, typically it soon becomes evident that, due to
market conditions, the numbers will be either easily met or completely out of
Hope, Bunce and
Röösli suggest setting relative performance goals instead. They make a
comparison to a football league, where success is not defined as a fixed number
of wins, but the position in the league table at the end of the season. Every team
will do their best until the final game to end up as high as possible in the
table. This works between the teams inside the company, as well as between the
whole company and its peers in the market. When these goals are well-defined,
there is little need of periodic revision and negotiation – the peers keep
trying to exceed each other’s performance, the goals naturally move higher.
If the teams
compete against each other, how is effective co-operation possible between
them? According to the authors, the key is that although the teams compare each
other’s performance, they don’t compete for the same customers – avoiding a
zero-sum game, where one team’s win could be another one’s loss. The authors
also refer to recent research concluding that people rewarded for individual
performance share information the least, while those rewarded for team
performance more and the ones rewarded for company performance the most.
Rewards: Base Rewards on relative performance, not fixed targets.
Perhaps the most
important notion of the authors is that while poor compensation is a source of
demotivation, lasting motivation is not built by adding overly generous
incentive programs. Instead, people are motivated by self-esteem and personal
development or, put simply, the feeling that they are doing a good job. I
believe that this is especially true in the welfare economies, where people
can’t radically change their living conditions by earning more money. Non-cash
motivators, such as praise and attention from management, a chance to lead a
project or a simple “thank you” appear to be stronger motivators. The book
cites John Seddon, a UK psychologist and business consultant, saying that in
all cases he knows, scrapping the incentive scheme and replacing it by salary
has improved cooperation and customer service and reduced sales force turnover.
Most importantly, it has increased sales!
rewards are nevertheless going to be paid, they should be based on teams rather
than individuals. The benefits of this approach are probably obvious, but the
authors also argue that its most-feared problem, “free riding”, is very small.
In a team-based culture, the free riders are exposed, subjected to peer
pressure and eventually replaced.
performance targets in advance and basing the rewards on them can, according to
the book, “produce perverse effects”. If the people notice early on that they
will not meet their minimum target, or will exceed the maximum, there is no
longer incentive to maximize the results for that year. There are many ways to
“play” such a system. A better way is to base the rewards on relative
performance, against internal or external peers. This can, of course, be done
only in hindsight. Although this approach adds subjectivity to the process, it
can be made more dependable and transparent by setting evaluation criteria in
advance and making them known to everyone.
The change in the
real world is continuous; it doesn’t come in annual increments. Yet most
companies “manage the year end” – once again, through the budgets set in a
politics-infused, exhaustive negotiation process from September till December.
This process is too rigid and slow to properly respond to changes in the
marketplace and take the advantage of them.
leaders see planning as a continuous process, driven by major external and
internal events and the emerging knowledge thereof. They scrap the budgets and,
instead, use rolling forecasts that are not focused on deviations from a fixed
target, but on as realistic a view of the future as possible, involving various
scenarios. The front-line teams follow up the changes, consider their best
options and act accordingly. A high-level strategy is still needed, but it
should provide direction, rather than fixed targets and be created and updated
with a strong involvement of the front-line teams.
Coordination: Coordinate interactions dynamically, not through annual budgets.
When the authors
talk about using “pull” instead of “push” and refer to the Toyota model, it
sounds like we’ve heard all this decades ago. But the idea goes further than
merely setting up the supply chain. Especially companies in capital-heavy
industries tend to commit themselves to a certain type and levels of production
already when they invest in machinery and buildings. The fixed costs have to be
paid, which immediately creates a push for reaching break-even volumes of the
type of products that the process is suited for. The trick is to build
flexibility into internal capabilities and processes, and also in developing
long-term and dynamic supplier partnerships.
#11 – Resources:
Make resources available just-in-time, not just-in-case.
The executive team
of the company needs to act as venture capitalists – allocating resources to
the best opportunities available at any time. An effective way to do this is to
create an internal market, where business opportunities compete for support
resources, and also the support teams compete for the demand of their services.
Controls: Base controls on fast, frequent feedback, not on budget variances.
If you’re reading
“Leader’s Dilemma” and have gotten as far as chapter 12, it should be clear by
now that the authors are not big fans of budgeting (who is?). Rather than
monitoring budget variances, the leaders should provide the teams with a
relevant set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). When setting these KPIs, it
is important to understand what the company really stands for, what are its
fundamental values and how its success is defined. When it’s clear what we
want, it’s much easier to measure, whether we’ve reached it!
about empowerment is the very fact that it isn’t easy – there is still
potential for sustainable competitive advantage for the willing and capable
organizations. But whose job is it to turn an organization into empowered and
adaptive, without losing control?
book the authors present cases, where customers, investors, employees, managers
and even the society at large have benefited from the success of companies that
have employed this modern management model. Thus, I believe it’s in everyone’s
interests to be accountable, and demand the right kind of behavior from each