7. Leaders Devolve Appropriate Power and Authority

Empowered employees exist as a result of the way a company is run

Employee empowerment is a philosophy and a set of leadership practices that deliver real benefits for an organisation, that’s why agile companies know that success is linked to leaders devolving appropriate power and authority. The underlying principle gives employees the freedom, flexibility and power to make decisions and solve problems. It also holds them responsible and accountable for the outcomes of their actions, leaving colleagues feeling energised, capable, and determined to make the organisation successful.

Agile Leaders recognise that people work best when they are enabled, engaged and energised. Empowering individuals is a necessary skill of the Agile Leader as they balance the emerging needs and tensions of the organisation. Agile Leaders recognise that empowerment is not an “all or nothing” concept. Instead, it is a continuum of leadership behaviour that responds to the current context for change.

The Benefits of Empowerment

Research has shown that empowerment has a positive impact on an organisation’s quality of work, employee satisfaction, collaboration, productivity, and costs.

  1. Employees with the freedom and flexibility to make a difference deliver higher quality work
  2. Higher job satisfaction levels are found in empowered organisations
  3. Empowered employees have increased self confidence and ability to collaborate with others
  4. Empowerment gives a sense of increased responsibility, accountability, and ownership, resulting in increased productivity
  5. Empowering employees reduces organisational costs, for example employee turnover and retention costs.

All of these benefits help organisations achieve an extra edge, to outperform their competitors and to gain market share.

HCL Technologies’ empowerment philosophy has enabled the company to provide innovative, high-quality service to their customers, resulting in revenues tripling and customer satisfaction increasing by 73% in the last 5 years. HCL’s empowered employees take personal pride in their work and responsibility for doing a good job.

Empowering Colleagues Effectively

Empowerment is not an “all or nothing” concept. The diagram shows the Continuum of Empowerment which is a good place for Agile Leaders to start when considering the degree to which they can empower their colleagues (though the term “Empowers” is preferable to “Abdicates” at the top tier!). The diagram shows a pragmatic way of empowering individuals and teams that requires an understanding of the context, to allow the appropriate level of empowerment to be applied.

The Agile Leader knows that empowerment has to be applied carefully and not be seen as an opportunity to devolve responsibilities to people who do not have the authority, capability or knowledge to deliver. Unless individuals have a clear idea of their responsibilities and accountabilities empowerment causes more confusion and ends up demotivating individuals rather than motivating or inspiring them.

Empowerment has to be a negotiable dialogue where the Agile Leader gives enough power to colleagues, not only to achieve their goals in a more timely fashion but also to consider their development needs. This is where Principle 2 (Improved quality of thinking leads to improved outcomes) applies; taking time to think through how much empowerment is necessary and appropriate for each team as it delivers its goals.

The intended outcomes might not always be achieved, and it may not be possible to foresee the pitfalls that these new behaviours may bring about; however, this will provide the team members – and the Agile Leader – with new opportunities to learn and grow.

Embracing Change

Empowered employees feel free to challenge the status quo, which is critical for organisations in today’s fast-changing environment. Employees and the organisations they work for can become too complacent, doing things the way they have always done them.

Unless employees feel comfortable in questioning the status quo they, and their organisation, are likely to stagnate as competitors move swiftly past them. The Agile Leader will establish an environment where employees feel free to question, to challenge, to offer new ideas – and, crucially, to make their own decisions. This keeps the organisation competitive and benefits the employees’ own development as a result of the empowerment continuum.

A call for Humble Leadership

Empowerment is a key tool in achieving higher degrees of agility in organisations and in their change initiatives. However, effective empowerment relies on the robust psychology of the Agile Leader. Traditional leaders believe power, status and authority are a natural part of their role; for these types of leaders it is difficult to delegate authority. In some highly political organisations it may be to the individual’s advantage to gain more power.

In the Manifesto for Agile Business one of the core values asks leaders to put the needs of the customer above those of their own self-interest. This requires humility and a higher degree of ethics and morals than has been evident in some traditional management approaches.

In summary, organisations with empowered employees reap real economic benefits by delivering high quality products and services that translate to lower costs and higher revenues. The Agile Leader will devolve power and authority to those best placed to make decisions and, in turn, will see the benefits at both the organisation and individual levels.

Action Step:

1. Read this case study:

2. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How comfortable am I as a leader with devolving my power to the team?
  • What fears/concerns does it raise and how can I mitigate them?
  • What one thing can I do today that symbolises a shift towards empowerment based on ideas I’ve learned from the case study?

3. Read this blog post below for a customers perspective:

4. Click on the image below to download the quick reference guide

Go to: 8. Collaborative Communities Achieve More Than Teams of Individuals