Don’t manage. Empower!

One of the tenets of coaching approach to managing people is the idea that you don’t provide solutions, but you are a guide that helps the individuals to find the solutions by themselves. There is a very strong reason why to do it: sense of ownership. Employee with a sense of ownership will find the intrinsic motivation, will try hard and will deliver better results than someone who is just following orders.

There are essentially two ways how to do it: delegation and empowerment. In simplest terms, delegation is used to get person to do a task, but at the end of the day you are still the owner and thus accountable. Empowerment is used to transfer the ownership for the task completely. It consists of three parts: responsibility, power or means, and accountability.

A decision made by the person himself gives him bigger incentive and motivation to execute it well. It is his decision and his reputation on the line. You can decide the way you want it done, but then you are taking ownership, accountability and all the motivation out from the person. If you give him the power to decide on doing it the way that is close to his heart it will make it easy and fun for him. If he is the one who came up with the solution he is more likely to be motivated and will make sure it gets done. This is a powerful tool to get buy-in. You just define the goal, the target that needs to be achieved, but it shouldn’t be you who defines how to get there or what set of tasks needs to be accomplished. This is a very important aspect that needs some conscious effort as it is easy for senior person (or manager) to come to employee and tell him to do this and that, use these tools, do this thing first. Just remember, by providing too much detail on “how” to do something you are micromanaging. Your task as a leader is to provide “why” (vision) and not “how” (micromanagement) or even “what” (delegation).

Let me give you a very simple example. Let’s say you want your employee to visit a customer in different city. What will you do? Will you define when to go there, what to bring, how to get there and make the employee basically just follow a set of steps like a robot? What happens if something doesn’t go as planned? The employee will probably call you and asks what the next step is! What may also happen in situations like these is that you focus so much on execution that you don’t put enough emphasis on the goal itself. You forget to explain why this is important and what should be the outcome.

Wouldn’t it be better to define the goal first. For example: “We need to close one pending contract before the end of the month to meet our financial goal. Please, work with the customer during next week and get the contract. Feel free to travel to their offices if it helps. If you need help with anything feel free to come to me.” This way you have explained “what and why” and you are leaving all the tactical decisions on “how” on the employee. This is delegation. It is up to him to figure out when is the best time to go, whether it is better to take car or train. To have an alternative plan for cases when something goes wrong.

To get it to the next level you can empower the employee just by stating “The end of month is coming, please ensure we reach our target number. I talked with managers of other departments and they will provide you all the support you may require.” Taking this approach you empowered your employee to do what needs to be done in a way that works for him. You are keeping him engaged and motivated while saving some time on your part. And who knows, maybe this employee comes up with some ingenious way how to get the contract that wouldn’t occur to you.

Last but not least, it is your responsibility as a leader to ensure that the employee has the authority and the means to get the job done. As long as every single step needs to be approved by you it just won’t work. The same happens when you don’t announce it to the world so the employee is not getting the information and cooperation from others simply because no one is aware that you delegated this initiative to him or you gave him the power and responsibility to get it done. In case of our travelling sales person you need to make sure that others know that you have empowered this person to do whatever is necessary to reach the goal. So you may want to talk to travel department, accounting and rest of the sales team and announce that this account is now responsibility of this particular employee and they should provide all the support the same way they would provide it to you. He has the responsibility, power and accountability = he is empowered. And in fact, the others shouldn’t bother you at all. If they come for confirmation whether something is acceptable for you, push them away and reinforce the message that they need to get the confirmation from the employee you empowered.

This approach doesn’t mean you don’t know what’s going on. The employee may still need to provide an update to keep you informed on the progress. Just make sure that is how you present the request. When giving you the update he is not asking for your approval, or the direction, he is just letting you know how it goes and you shouldn’t unnecessarily step in adding your comments or suggestions unless the whole direction is wrong. Getting the update is a great time to reiterate your support and acknowledge the good work being done.

For both delegation and empowerment you need to ensure you are approachable and accessible when there are questions. And if there are questions you should always think whether you really need to provide the answer or whether it is better to coach the employee into finding the answer by himself.

What are your tips to prevent micromanaging? How do you ensure your team feels empowered to do what needs to be done? Is empowerment enough? It is still a form of control. What about creating environment where the employees are really autonomous and not just empowered?

4 thoughts on “Don’t manage. Empower!

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