Richard Branson’s recent blog post on Empowering your employees, don’t rule over them is an interesting read. I agree, we need to treat employees like responsible adults, but one question remains: Are employees mature enough to understand their responsibility to that policy and the company? Do they understand the ethical and moral obligations that, that entails? Maybe I am over thinking this. Maybe I need to get to the root of what empowerment really means. But then again, I promised you to be brutally honest, and not sugar coat the world. Or hand out rose-tinted glasses.
Sure, as an operations manager, supervisor, and fellow employee, I recall the days when colleagues would call in sick, and know perfectly well, they were skipping out. We called them ‘mental’ days and I took my fair share. We just had enough of work, and needed to just be ‘bums’. Now don’t take offense, it’s a fact of life and we all must understand why this behavior occurs. We all have a threshold of productivity; a pinnacle of use before we slide into procrastination. And that threshold varies from one person to another. Believe me when I tell you, this week has been challenging in that capacity. Half my brain is on an island in the middle of no where, or strolling along the streets of my favorite cities in Scotland. The other half is tugging, pulling, pushing, and screaming at the procrastinating side to get to work, reminding me I have plenty to do. I have reached a saturation point, where I need to step away from the desk, the computer, from most things and recharge the batteries. I need a mental day.
But empowerment is a bit more than just needing a day off. There are a host of other factors, and considerations to process. Virgin is a service company, rooted in helping people. Let me rephrase that, helping its stakeholders. And as I have discussed in class those stakeholders include employees. JW Marriott had it right, “If you don’t take care of your employees, they can’t take care of the customer. They can’t take care of the business. Profits won’t follow.” In today’s information overload, our brains are working over time. And couple that with other hard work of the body, and something has to bend, even break.
How do you create a balanced life?
I have mentioned this in class. How do you balance your work, your professional career with personal needs, desires? How do you give 110% or more to all the ‘hats’ you wear? How do we develop and attain effective and efficient employees, that genuinely care about our business? How do we demonstrate a caring attitude about our employees as persons with lives outside of work? How do we create an innovative culture that allows our businesses to remain fresh, and progressive without high turnover rates? How do we keep our best employees? How do we hire employees that have the same value set, and beliefs? All these questions and more are the layers that is empowerment.
Innovative businesses and culture must have fresh ideas, fresh viewpoints, and fresh perspectives on the dynamic world. We can’t see the good, the bad, the ugly unless we are focused and cognizant of the world around us. We can’t take advantage of opportunities, address threats, and weaknesses, or exploit strengths, unless we let the muddy waters settle, and acquire clarity. We can’t recognize that precarious edge when a decision has to be made before we tumble over into deep, dark pits of stagnation, and potentially worse. Empowerment is giving the employees the right to make decisions and more. It has its roots in ethics.
Empowerment is about employing several of the ethical principles I mentioned in my last post. We are definitely extending the hand of trust (trustworthiness), in that we have hired the right people, that understand that our business’ success and failure hinges on their work ethic. That they will be honest with their employers, and their fellow employees, even customers. That they have integrity in that they are courageous enough to recognize their responsibilities. They will be fair, and not abuse the privilege granted them. That there is a two-way street, a concern and respect for others, in that we employ the golden rule–that they respect the company, their fellow employees, and the guest/customer–basically, all those stakeholders that effect the company and its continuation. That the employees have a commitment to excellence, that they give more than 110%, even more before they are even called upon to do so. That they are all leaders, that they must walk the walk, talk the talk.
Such a policy can succeed and reinforce the corporate culture, and propel the reputation and morale of the company if this culture becomes ingrained in the psyche, and there is self policing of the policy by all individuals. That corrections are identified and made before that behavior abuses said privilege. And the employees are made accountable for their actions. This in turn will build a loyal following within and outwit the company itself. That they might set the benchmark for others to follow.
So empowerment encompasses all of these principles. It is an action on the esteem, and self actualisation scale. It is a difficult concept for some, easier for others. It can’t be one of those concepts that is merely understood, but needs to be discussed and argued about. Committed to paper, and more.
Virgin isn’t the only company that has put such a belief on the shoulders of their employees. Ritz-Carlton, and other firms have clearly stated in their corporate culture and policies what empowerment means to their companies. That is why it is important to research the corporate culture and core values/beliefs of those companies you want to work for.