Empowerment is a great word but can be meaningless unless we give it an operational definition. Operationally, empowerment means that there is alignment between a person’s authority and the responsibility they are given. Continuing from our previous post on Empowerment, what can we do operationally when people don’t seem able to do their work on their own? How can we prevent “fire-fighting”, in other words, situations where managers have to jump in and “put out the fire”?
Five Questions to Solve the Problem
Misalignment between authority and responsibility is not created by the negligence of staff or the reluctance of managers to delegate authority. It derives directly from an ingrained conflict within the organization.
Why is finding correct alignment so important?
Firstly, each time somebody who is supposed to do something has to stop their work to ask somebody else’s authorization, an unnecessary inefficiency is introduced into our system/organization (graphically, this is a loop in the flowchart of the process).
Secondly, each time somebody has to ask for an unnecessary authorization, they will feel less responsible/motivated/committed to the successful completion of their task.
Thirdly, this mechanism facilitates the discovery of wrong policies/measurements.
Asking these five questions will help the people involved in the conflict to see it differently. In this way everyone has the right framework for finding a solution which protects the needs of the organization.
- Which need of the organization will be endangered by the “fire” (problem) that has been created?
- Which rule of the organization prevents the employee from “putting out the fire”/solving the problem by themselves?
- What action does the employee have to take to carry out their task? This action amounts to breaking a rule of the organization. Can the need of the organization that is endangered by the fire/problem be protected and satisfied in this way?
- Which need of the organization is the rule they would break protecting?
- What is the lowest level common goal that satisfies both needs?
By answering these questions, we can clearly define the misalignment that has occurred and correct it. Each time a misalignment between authority and responsibility occurs with our staff, let’s ask ourselves the five questions that allow us to write the Misalignment Conflict. This way we will know if every misalignment results from a “conflict” between two legitimate needs of the system.
Satisfying Legitimate Needs
Legitimate needs can never actually be in conflict, only the positions that people adopt to protect those needs. We can then deal with the situation together with our people. We can, in fact, explain the reason why the rule that prevents them from carrying out their task exists and we can surface the mental models/assumptions that lead us into a conflict. In this way, everyone has the right framework for finding a solution that protects the needs of the organization.
We can map put the answers to the 5 questions on a conflict cloud diagram.
Let’s say that I am in a situation where, if a certain action is not carried out, an important need of the organization is endangered; and let’s also say that I am responsible for that action. As we know, the position of a need in a conflict is B. It may happen that a rule of the organization (possibly a company policy and/or procedure) prevents me from fulfilling my responsibility. The place to write this rule is D’. The opposite of this rule is, of course, what would enable the fulfilling of my responsibility, D. The rule of the organization that blocks me is originated by another need of the organization, the common goal of the two needs is, obviously, A.
Why Can’t People Do Their Work On Their Own?
In a previous post we gave answer number one to this this question (see Empowerment: Making It Real in Your Organization )
Answer number two is that we are unable to give clear instructions. We don’t know how to adequately communicate the knowledge required to carry out the task given. We will look at how to do this in an upcoming post.
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