Synergy. That is a word that may not seem to be as popular or prolific as it once was. Yet that doesn’t make it any less relevant. Like any leader, you are likely facing the imperative to improve productivity and performance and do more with less. (It may be a new year but that does not mean your challenges are all new!) And, what is performance improvement but a quest for greater synergy?
Empowerment is another widely used term. One that hasn’t lost its popularity to the same extent, perhaps because of its promise. The difference is that synergy is an outcome – something you have to work hard to achieve – while empowerment is held up to be the magic formula for creating synergy. So, how successful have your empowerment initiatives been?
If they have not delivered, or even come close to delivering, the results you were expecting or had hoped for, let me share a few ideas that might resurrect your hopes, re-inspire your efforts and reinvigorate your results.
“True teamwork in organizations is often a function of economic, logistic or political foxholes that convince people that they not only have the same goal but that they need each other to accomplish it. A key challenge for today’s manager is either to exploit naturally formed foxholes or build new ones that will foster successful teamwork.” Your initial response to this might be the retort, “I have enough challenges to meet without adding to the list!” You would, however, do well to pause and reconsider.
The Paradox of Employment
Connor himself goes on to give the reason why. He says, “An irony that often destroys the opportunity for synergy is that managers are unable to admit that they are in a foxhole and cannot succeed alone. The work force is hired for the unique skills and perspectives that it brings to the job. Yet once people begin to work, the managers who hired them punish them for offering innovative ideas or disagreeing with the status quo.”
This is what I call, “the paradox of employment.” Nor is it one-sided: employees are reluctant to accept responsibility for asserting their opinion. Connor himself says, “The biggest barrier employees face in digging foxholes is their reluctance to accept responsibility for asserting their opinions.” This may be a bit of a chicken and egg situation, for he goes on, “Many people have felt so impotent in their personal lives and throughout their careers that they are hesitant to engage with management in a truly empowered fashion.” (My emphasis.)
This brings us back to the subject of empowerment. In order, however, to avoid getting bogged down by our thoughts or preconceptions of what empowerment means, it may be useful to take a fresh look at the subject.
A Fresh Look at Empowerment
Under a heading that “Empowerment should not be confused with delegation, courage or autonomy”, Connor avers that organizations are “mistaken” when they refer to empowering your work force as encouraging your employees to make decisions of their own regarding their work. Rather, he says, “The term empowerment should be reserved for those situations where employees are not granted permission to take action on their own, but instead are asked to provide input to management as decisions are being made.”
Of course empowerment actually includes both but, by stating it the way he does, Connor is taking the position that the permission for appropriate action should be a given. His emphasis points to the reality that, while managers cannot delegate their accountability for decision making, people in the lower ranks feel the hazards of daily operations and other changes sooner. Accordingly, the CEO and his executive team are missing out on crucial information if they do not receive this input or don’t get it in time. In today’s fast-paced, competitive market that could prove disastrous.
This brings us back to the foxhole analogy. Effectively everyone – managers and employees alike – is ultimately facing the same dangers and thus need to work together to minimize the risks. This requires striving for the same goals and genuine interdependence. Genuine empowerment means:
- The creativity to frame the situation so success is possible;
- The capacity to face and make tough decisions;
- The motivation to pay the price of success.
Only possible when both parties are willing and able, this suggests that you can only achieve synergy when you have empowerment and teamwork. This demands a strong degree of trust – something which seems to be largely lacking in many organizations today. That begs the question: how best do you facilitate this?
The gist of Connor’s book that you create a more resilient organization by enabling a more resilient work force, and he offers many good solutions for ensuring this. The drawback, however, is that it doesn’t necessarily provide permanence. Like almost all other management solutions it may not be proof to changes in management or priorities. You need to create a concrete foundation that cements the capability and makes it an integral part of the organization’s identity.
This is where the Every Individual Matters Model™ comes to the fore. It creates a new foxhole. Its employee ownership element overcomes many, if not all, the shortcomings of conventional employee stakeholder schemes. This provides the catalyst to ignite and dramatically accelerate your efforts to empower your employees and create the synergy that will ensure you are successful in your efforts to create a resilient organization that can survive almost anything the future might throw at it.
If you like what you have read contact me today to discuss how my ‘Every Individual Matters’ Model could help you value your people and provide the catalyst to help you create an organic culture where everyone cares and the business becomes our business, embedding continuous improvement that engenders ‘love at work’ and transforms – and sustains – organic business performance.
Bay is the founder and director of Zealise, and the creator of the ‘Every Individual Matters’ organisational culture model that helps transform organisational performance and bottom-line results. Bay is also the author of several books, including “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” and “The 7 Deadly Toxins of Employee Engagement” and, more recently, The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped.