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  Empowerment and Involvement


 
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EMPOWERMENT AND INVOLVEMENT

Empowerment can be a useful mechanism for efficient and effective use of human resources. It is a variation of delegation where involvement and participation are key to its success.

An empowering working culture can be difficult to implement in the public sector. In local authorities the organisational values, beliefs and attitudes are in line with using resources to prevent organisational failure. Councils are accountable to the citizens and must demonstrate efficient use of the council tax payers' money.

Empowerment on the other hand, is all about creating and adopting a conceptual mindset of "assuring success" rather than "preventing failure". This is certainly beyond the typical "blame culture" that blocks employees from believing in themselves and their judgements.

A definite prerequisite for empowerment is a feeling of personal safety. The managers should be able to feel safe enough to relinquish power and give more authority to particular employees. Focusing on outcomes, rather than procedures, is the basis of the leader's new role of "success enabler" rather than "controller for possible failure". It is the leaders' and managers' responsibility to make it easier for employees to do their work.

Empowerment is also about realising its benefits. Many organisations, both public and private sector, are driven by tangible metrics such as profits or funds, output and quality. The benefits of empowerment and involvement tend to be underestimated due to the difficulties of measuring their effects in quantifiable ways. However, some financial justification can be found in increased motivation creating improved team sprit, which in turn will reduce absenteeism and produce better quality work.

General advantages of empowerment and involvement:

  • increased employee contribution
  • lower absenteeism
  • better productivity
  • increased work satisfaction
  • less conflict as employees will more likely agree with changes if they can get involved in the decision making process

Disadvantages of empowerment:

  • abuse of the newly acquired power by the employees
  • empowerment is for team workers - employees that do not value team success or choose to focus only on individual success are likely to be disinterested or even to resist
  • some employees may not be knowledgeable enough to make good business decisions
  • too much responsibility on some employees
  • increased time in groups or committees can be distracting and take time away from regular jobs
  • for empowerment to work, all team members should "buy-in" to the idea
  • managers and leaders should be capable enough to facilitate the sharing of information; this can translate into additional training costs

Overcoming complexity

Change management provides the capability to make use of the skills, detailed knowledge, talents and points of view of the people in the process or area to be changed. This is important because:

  • any large change project is too complex for one person, or a few people, to fully understand and manage
  • in change Management it is the people that change - either in the way that they deal with citizens or in the way that citizens deal with them

Research has shown that anyone can typically 'think' about seven (plus or minus two) things at once (1). This is why courses on presentation skills recommend no more than seven points per slide and why strategic human resource people recommend no more than about seven direct reports per manager. The number varies with different people (and with stress, fatigue and the type of things 'thought' about) but it is a widely used rule of thumb.

Translating this to change management, it follows that the project manager should be able to deal with roughly seven 'issues' in a particular project (2). If such a project manager has one direct report in charge of each of these 'issues', or project areas, then the team should be able to deal with up to 7 x 7 a total of 49 'issues'.

Forty-nine may seem quite large, but is in fact a very small capacity. The number of issues to be addressed in a typical IT project (see the illustrative examples in Figure 1) should be considered.

Project issue or area

Different options

Choice of software, software vendor and contract type

Software differentiated by scale, service type, hardware platform, functionality

Vendor differentiated by size, track record, prior partnership, expertise, location, service type, hardware expertise, functionality experience

Contract differentiated by buy or rent, maintenance, warranty and service agreements, ownership and control

Choice of hardware, hardware vendor and contract type

Hardware differentiated by scale, service type, hardware platform, functionality

Vendor differentiated by size, track record, prior partnership, expertise, location, service type, hardware expertise, functionality experience

Contract differentiated by buy or rent, maintenance, warranty and service agreements, ownership and control

Choice of implementations partner and type of partner

Partner or no partner

Public or private

One or more than one

Expertise level and type (i.e. outsourcer, consultancy, builder, finance house, lawyer, project manager etc)

Project financing

Source: in-house, central government, PFI, rental, European Union , bank

Checks demanded by source: different with every of source

Stakeholder needs

Different with each stakeholder group
Different with every council service
Different every time a citizen 'touches' that service

Figure 1: Some different options within project areas

The capacity of the team of seven, plus the project manager, is not very large compared to the complexity of the choices that they have to deal with. This problem is amplified by the tendency of other stakeholders, who typically will outnumber the project team, to generate additional options, requests or barriers. This expression demonstrates a fundamental law of nature:

Only complex solutions can solve complex problems (3)

This may not be agreeable to some people who prefer the idea of a 'silver bullet' (that can kill the werewolf of complexity), but ultimately this 'silver bullet' is a product of fantasy. If you are having "success" with a silver bullet solution, it is likely that you are just dealing with the symptoms rather than root causes.

How can the change project team build enough capacity to manage all the choices, options and barriers (i.e. the variety) in a implementation? The answer is by co-opting part of the problem. In the same way that stakeholders generate choices, options and barriers they can also be persuaded to generate obvious choices, preferred options and then also remove barriers .

In this way the project team can amplify its capacity to manage complexity, from forty-nine (or whatever approximation is agreed upon) to however much is needed. This can be done by adding levels of allies under the project manager's direct reports. This kind of arrangement is shown simplistically in Figure 2 . By persuading the stakeholders inside and outside the council to help, then even the most complex change projects can be completed.

How can the project team persuade the different stakeholder groups to help? This is accomplished by involving them to a greater or lesser extent. Consider the case of Salford City Council and how the idea of a change management team was developed into a whole participative approach.

The idea of involving stakeholders can also extend to citizens or the internal customers of the particular process under review. Those people that are to be most affected by the change and who have the most power in the change area have to be involved. The stakeholder groups can be plotted on a chart like the one in Figure 3.

Stakeholder plot

Figure 3: Stakeholder plot showing how the dimensions of power over change, and stake in the change, differentiates between stakeholder groups

Involvement can include such things as:

  • all the contents described in your Communications Plan
  • stakeholders points of view and feedback on:
  • the aims of the project
  • what the project really will do for them
  • how they want to help
  • why they will resist the project
  • what questions or misunderstandings they might have
  • detailed knowledge and advice on the business processes that your project is changing

Involvement led by the Communications Plan and structured by the Project Methodology will enable the stakeholders to:

  • help with the project
  • provide feedback to the project
  • be less resistant

Empowerment and involvement both remove project barriers and, more importantly for sustainable change, they also harness the detailed knowledge and creativity of the people that do the job every day.

If people who are affected by change, both citizens and staff, are allowed to influence that change, they are more likely to agree and accept it. Being involved in helping and managing the change will in fact empower both the citizens and staff (4).

For example, if a switchboard is going to be upgraded to a full customer contact centre then the people who currently work in the switchboard should:

  • know why the upgrade needs to happen ("what's the point?")
  • be made aware of how this will affect them
  • be kept informed of when it will happen
  • be asked what they think of the idea and and its justification
  • become part of the team(s) that do the detailed process design
  • choose software and equipment
  • communicate with the rest of the organisation and external stakeholders

This technique applies to all levels of people in the existing switchboard centre and in many ways is actually more effective lower down in the hierarchy of the organisation since people, such as the telephone operators, know more about dealing with citizens, and the resultant issues and opportunities than their managers do.

The main benefit of a principle of empowerment and involvement is that when it is used correctly, it will guarantee openness and generate trust (5). It will also validate the corporate strategy of the senior management by contrasting it with the diverse views of the different stakeholder groups.

The consequences of not empowering and involving staff will be:

  • people resisting the change by putting up barriers
  • impractical, imprecise and unworkable solutions
  • de-motivation, distrust, psychological damage (6) and unrest in the staff
  • unsustainable, or even unreachable, results

How to approach it?

Communication
It is important to set mutually understood expectations. Giving individuals responsibility for designing and delivering improved performance should ensure that their commitment to achieving them flourish. This way, individuals will be willing to take on responsibility for their own behaviour.
Leadership
It is essential that the leaders are open, receptive towards new ideas, honest, caring and respect other employees.
Acceptance
Responsibility assumes ownership. Giving responsibility over deliverables and objectives creates a strong link over the outcomes of a project and will produce emotional reactions. Such reactions can be feelings of pride for a job well done and disappointment for not achieving the desired objectives. This is a vital source of motivation that builds under empowering leaders.
Management
In an empowering culture, management's role is to ensure desired outcomes. It is no longer about the control of the employee's behaviour in a traditional sense.
Maintenance
Once an empowering culture is established, it will need to be maintained to keep it from fading away. Managers and leaders need to recognise the importance of their team members and the jobs they are doing.
People Strategy
The best way to avoid some of the pitfalls outlined above is to have the right "people strategy". The aim is to match the skills base to the possible empowered roles. As outlined above, it is important to have the business case, project plan and communications plan in place before the start.

The leaders and managers need to know how to empower, and employees need to be informed of what skills and competencies are required for each of these roles. There is a risk that this can be a time consuming and costly process. In order to ensue the flow of creativity, without being too prescriptive, employees must be given boundaries within which they operate and innovate.

When an organisation sets out to develop an empowering, collaborative state, the leaders should be the architects of such change.

(1) Miller G (1956) 'The Magic Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information.' The Psychological Review . Vol. 63, p81-97.

(2) By 'issues' is meant the key elements of a role that make it what it is,; or the key elements that a good manager will check on every day using their 'things to do list'.

(3) Paraphrased from Ashby's Law Of Requisite Variety. W. Ross Ashby (1956): An Introduction to Cybernetics , (Chapman & Hall, London ), P. 202

(4) Empowerments in this context means people are given power(and the required support) over their working lives. Change is a political process, and this empowerment argument assumes that a technically rational case will always win support. In practice, life is much more complex and the empowerment argument is better understood as a norm rather than an irrefutable principle. See also S3.1 CHANGE MANAGEMENT TOOLKIT - Innovation

(5) Trust and trust management, in terms of internal and external Corporate Reputation Management is dealt with in detail in Davies G., Chun R., R. V. da Silva and Roper S. (2003) Corporate Reputation and Competitiveness. Routledge, London

(6) One result of older mechanistic change management methodologies where the project team is cut off from the rest of the organisation is that staff are forced in to following a single (and not necessarily correct) management view. Griffith J (2002) Why Change Management Fails. Journal of Change Management. Vol. 2, No. 4, p297-304

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