Distributing Authority vs. Empowerment

I think we all get a bit sick and tired of hearing executives and employees alike espouse the need for more empowerment. Recently we stumbled on a possible mechanism for making that transition a reality.

When people ask for more empowerment, they don’t necessarily want the accountability that comes with it. It is also interesting to witness executives who believe in the notion of empowerment but at the end of day don’t trust the recipient.

Recently I had the opportunity to work with a leadership team faced with the challenge of dealing with a “micro-managing” command and control leader. The growth of the organization, however, called for this leader to change his leadership style or failure (for the division) was around the corner.

The challenge?

  1. A culture where the prevailing belief about accountability is that it directly correlates to negative consequences.
  2. A leader who successfully transitioned the organization from survival mode to growth mode. “A turnaround guy.”

How do you coach a leader with 30+ years experience and a record of achievement to “let go and trust”? And how do you inspire people to take accountability in an environment that equates accountability to an “exit interview”? What worked will fly in the face of change management academia…. but at the end of the day, it worked.

The first step was re-structuring the management structure or governance model. Sacrilegious, I know… But it worked. The real issue for this group was to reframe and recalibrate decision authority given how large and complex the organization had become… We referred to this change as a process of distributing authority (not empowerment). This is a precise and strategically directed process to distribute decision making authority to the right people, with the right experience, against the right projects and responsibilities.

Breakthrough! The command and control leader drove the process reengineering effort, identifying the key interfaces and key people to speed up decision making and developed an efficient and effective reporting system that kept him fully informed and involved (as required) while empowering those leaders who are driving execution of key initiatives anyway.

Reframe the intention, redesign the process and you will have a more empowered organization.