Is empowerment key to employee experience ?

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Empowerment concept with young woman reaching and looking upwards

From my point of view, most of the employee’s experience takes place during  work. I mean when the person is operational, performs tasks, does his job.

What are his points of contact with the company? They are of several kinds:

– human: managers and colleagues. Even customers: sometimes frustration and problems also come from outside.

– physical: the working environment itself, the offices.

– technological: work tools.

– organizational: process, organization, rules, procedures.

What happens at these contact points is not assessed ex-nihilo but in regarding of two things:

The employee experienced is judged in the light of the experience contract and the employee’s expectations

• the experience contract between the company and the employee. It is the promise made to the employee (not to be confused with the Employee Value Proposition). If honestly formulated, this contract can be at the borderline of cleavage but will make it possible to address the “right” candidates instead of raking in too much. There is no point in promising autonomy and responsibility in a “control freaks” company, nor in valuing your streamined organization if you are the opposite. It’s only one dimension of the contract, but it’s the one we’re interested in here.

• the expectations of the employee. If they are not aligned with the experience contract, in theory, either the candidate will not apply or will decline during the process, or the company will refuse him. In practice, too many candidates accept positions in a company that does not suit them because of constraints (difficult market) or for the prestige of the line on their CV and too many companies continue to hire profiles who have the required skills but not the right culture or soft skillsm. You don’t say no to a rock star even though you know he will never fit in.

And in the most frequent expectations of the current candidate is empowerment. A concept as old as the world but still difficult to implement and which could be very simply defined as “having the means to do one’s job”. This means many things at the same time, such as autonomy, the capacity for decision-making and initiative and the technical and human resources necessary for one’s mission. I say necessary because it cannot be an absolute autonomy or capacity for initiative, but just what it takes to do your job, or even to go a step further, without feeling chained, controlled. A “negative” definition could therefore be: the ability to do one’s job with the strict level of control and reporting required. We frame, we check but we don’t brake.

The 2018 candidate is eager for empowerment, the manager less comfortable

And, good news, today’s world is less and less suited to overprocessed companies that are multiplying control interfaces. On the contrary, it needs simplification and therefore employees who not only have the skills to fully carry out their mission but who are allowed to carry out their mission within their scope without being hindered.

The difficulty, as we know, is not so much to find employees eager for empowerment as managers capable of empowering.

On the manager’s side, it is difficult to find a balance between too much management and too much letting go. Empowerment is not a generalist approach but must be assessed on a collaborator-by-collaborator basis according to their own capacities.

But to believe that it is enough for a manager who knows how to empower and find the right balance to reach the goal is a widespread but…totally wrong belief.

I remember that about ten years ago I read a study with paradoxical conclusions. It said that, on the one hand, people did not like their managers and found them incompetent or even useless and, on the other hand, that they did not want to take their place

Not all employees want to be autonomous and responsible

Paradoxical? Well, not so much. Described, the manager keeps a usefulness: that of a scapegoat. Without a manager to complain to? Who should be held responsible? Who to hide behind?

This is one of the limits of empowerment: an “empowered” employee must assume more responsibility than another and this does not suit everyone.

In this article from the Harvard Business Review it is also said that empowerment when it comes to routine tasks results in an increase in stress for some employees without improving things.

The article concludes, as I said earlier, that everything ultimately depends on the expectations of the employees. Some want empowerment, others do not, and for those who ask, the question that arises for everyone is “how far”. This reminds me in a similar vein of the stunning failure of holacracy in Zappos. The question is not whether this mode of organization is viable or not, good or not, whether the implementation method has been good or not. The point is simply that not all employees are seeking autonomy and accountability. And not all to the same degree.

From there we can think of two things.

The candidate allergic to empowerment: casting error?

The first is that believing that developing empowerment in a company will be a good thing for both the organization’s performance and the employee experience. That is not true. In any case, it will depend on the employees: it will be, depending on the case, either totally positive or totally negative.

The second is that one may wonder which employee who would not be comfortable in such a context would have his place in a company in 2018! Because we are talking about something that all companies are looking for or say they are looking for. A discourse to be tempered in fact: the gap between this desire for empowerment and initiative dictated by the search for agility and the cultural and managerial reality of the company means that there is and will always be a lot of room in companies for employees who are allergic to empowerment.

 

Crédit photo : Fotolia