The Power of Empowerment

As I find myself in my mid-40s, I have noticed a bit of a changing of the tides lately. I’m starting to recognize a shift from spending much of my time ASKING questions to more of my time in ANSWERING questions. One question that I’ve spent a lot of time with lately could be categorized as “What do you wish you knew then that you know now?” with regard to my professional career. While there is more than one answer for me, the answer that seems to illicit a lot of emotion and often times even anger with others is the topic of empowering others - specifically with empowerment around information.

I have found myself around the board room table with thousands of company leaders as a consultant, auditor and instructor. Very rarely does the leadership team say “You know… we’re not doing a very good job at leading our people. We’re not managing as well as we could be by developing our people, tools and other resources.” The day shift thinks the night shift is the problem. The Baby Boomers blame the Millennials. Top management points the finger down the ladder. “They’re so damn lazy…” or something about everyone else being a bunch of idiots. Whatever it is, it ain’t my fault.

Show me an organization where leadership uses this kind of language about their people and I’ll bet we’ll also find a severe lack of empowering others with regard to action and decision making. Metrics are not shared, communication is poor and being a manager (hierarchy) is more important than leadership .

From my perspective, the single most significant factor that differentiates these two types of cultures is empowerment. Randy Boyd, CEO of PetSafe discussed the power of empowerment and how empowerment played a pivotal role in the transformation of his company.

Companies that share relevant key indicators, and teach their associates how to understand the data that is being presented, clearly out-perform those organizations where top management keeps information close to their chests.

Here are a few empowerment benchmarks and best practices observed during my audits and consulting work days:

  1. Stall Art installed in restrooms by the CEO showing cost of quality metrics for the previous month alongside a photo of a Lamborghini and a Ferrari stating “$xxx,xxx = WE PISSED AWAY THESE TWO COMPANY CARS LAST MONTH”.

  2. Real time indicators streamed throughout the facility showing leading indicators such as # of parts produced/hour, # of near miss incidents reported (safety and quality), $ of rework/scrap/repair as a % of overall production, etc. Indicators were not only presented in common areas on TV monitors, but they were also presented on all computer screens as screen savers so even the folks offsite could stay abreast of the latest performance indicators.

  3. Daily stand up meetings performed around a central communication board used to provide visual communication of process-oriented metrics. Each day area leaders would pick an associate at random to tell the story of the posted information. A bit of a pop quiz approach, used to ensure that everyone is aware of past performance, present status and future expectations.

  4. Problem solving groups (PSGs) that are taught how to run their own problem solving sessions, at the place where the work is performed, using simple tools such as the A3, 8D, Corrective Action Forms, etc. Teams are cross-functional and must continue to improve their work by solving issues that effect the customer, create waste or decrease risks by clearing showing a connection between project results and improved indicators.

If you are a leader, I strongly encourage you to empower those that have an effect on the organizational health and improvement strategy. Empower your people then hold them accountable for their results. Be consistent and create an environment that encourages others to act like owners, take risks and learn from their mistakes. You see a difference, I assure you. And let’s not forgot to have a little fun along the way (see Brother’s Osborne video above).

Headshot - Jim Thompson.jpg

James Thompson has over 25 years of experience serving domestic and international organizations in their pursuit of organizational excellence. James also specializes in leadership development and advanced manufacturing techniques.

In 2003, Mr. Thompson founded Concentric in order to advise customers in organizational improvement, process optimization and integrated (concentric) management techniques. James has led hundreds of projects in Lean, ISO 9001, IATF 16949 + AIAG Core Tools, AS9100, ISO 14001, ISO 45001 and other organizational excellence (OE) implementation projects. In 2008, he relocated the business to Charleston, SC due to demand in cost reduction efforts, particularly in the automotive & aerospace manufacturing sectors. James is an Exemplar Global accredited QMS Lead Auditor, Certified Master Management Consultant (CMMC) and Lean Six Sigma instructor. You can find more information about him on our website here.