Jim Christenson retired last year after serving 40 years in university and federal facilities management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org..
Which way did they go?
How many of them were there?
How fast were they going?
I must find them!
I am their leader.
-Author unwilling to provide name
Leaders cause change. But leaders need help to make change-or anything else-happen. There are many ways that such help can be obtained. Organizations are classified by the method the leader uses to get the help needed to cause or make changes.
Professors Kim Cameron and Robert Quinn have created an assessment instrument called Prism 4 to determine an organization's profile, which directly measures these leadership qualities, among other things. Members of an organization distribute a fixed number of points in response to competing statements about the characteristics of the organization, the leader, management of employees, organizational glue, strategic emphases, and criteria of success. The points are then totaled in four categories that lead to a quadrilateral plot determining the extent to which the organization leans toward each of the four competing organizational cultures: the clan, the adhocracy, the hierarchy, and the market.
Cameron and Quinn define these organizational cultures in some detail and then give each participant an opportunity to determine which profile the organization should move toward. Without going into too much detail, the first two cultures tend to minimize control over people, while the latter two typically maximize that control. The anonymous leader who uttered the words at the beginning of this column, had created an organization with a strong emphasis on individual freedom. To a degree, that would be a good policy for, say a hi-tech development company. A typical, old-fashioned government agency would be heavy on hierarchy, and a good facilities organization would be market driven while encouraging staff member flexibility (a high level of adhocracy).
While different missions require different work cultures, most organizations have moved from hierarchy toward adhocracy. Unfortunately, in many cases this has happened without setting appropriate boundaries for people. The results are that morale is not improved (as hoped) and the organization also fails to accomplish its mission.
Let's review what has happened in the last few decades. The sergeants-become-foremen of World War II and the Korean War have retired. Their hierarchical supervisory style has slowly faded in most organizations. In the early 1980s, Ken Blanchard, and many other authors, suggested we ponder the fact that people get excited about bowling, fishing, gardening, and other after-work activities, but are rarely excited about what they do at work. It became apparent that people enjoy doing what they have control over and can see the results of. To the extent that people have no control or don't realize the difference their efforts make, they feel used. Employees are like robots; and they often act like it. For these people, the organizations they work for are known for their unstated expectation that employees leave their brains with their cars in the corporate parking lot.
Japanese manufacturers, guided in part by W. Edwards Deming, were the first to capitalize on cultural phenomena. Quality circles and various forms of total quality management are the result. In the last decade, most industrialized countries have belatedly awakened to the need to radically change the work culture in order to increase quality and productivity. The word "empowerment" is in everyone's lexicon and is now practiced, to varying degrees, in most viable organizations.
Kimball Fisher refers to empowerment as the second industrial revolution. Therefore, it is not a flavor of the month, but rather a competitive necessity. An amplified definition of empowerment adopted by the Plant Operations Division of the University of Michigan in 1995 was "…taking more personal control of your work life for the betterment of the organization. It means having the authority to take increasing personal responsibility, ownership, and accountability, within defined boundaries, for the what, how, and when of the job. This involves the freedom to make decisions, innovate, take risks, make mistakes (and correct them), without fear. It requires continuous learning as well as an open sharing of knowledge and innovation with co-workers, workers, and customers."
Unfortunately, in some organizations empowerment was interpreted to mean "no rules." Organizations moved at lightning speed from heavy hierarchy, replete with policies, procedures, and flowcharts to neutral, and finally to nothing. This created anarchy, not empowerment. Those of us who have worked at changing the work environment, to one where each individual has more control over his or her own work, have realized, sometimes later than we should have, that empowerment does not work without boundaries and a lot of training. Empowerment-the sharing of power-is not a quick fix. It requires a major investment of time and energy, but the long-term dividends are well worth the investment.
The University of Michigan Plant Academy is the staff development arm of the university's Plant Operations Division. They define boundaries as "the framework that makes it possible to transform a workplace into a more empowered environment." Boundaries were further described as the start and end points of a task, the limits of what is and is not appropriate action. They are macro-managing rather than micro-managing. They use vision and principles to manage, more than policy and procedures.
This framework includes mission and guiding values of the organization, the needs of customers, legal or government guidelines, budget, and so forth. Instead of restricting employees, boundaries define the territory within which individuals have complete freedom to operate and make decisions. Empowered people don't have to tell a customer "I'll have to ask my boss about that," because they own the territory and have the final word within their boundaries.
Empowerment causes casualties. The most common casualty is the first line supervisor. Empowerment demands a completely new role. Coaches and facilitators are needed, not bosses. The supervisor may need to arrange for or provide training in decision-making, dealing with difficult people, budget guidelines, and more. Moral support by the supervisor is critical. While most individuals enjoy exercising control over their work world, a few do not. The organization needs to determine whether there is still a place for staff members who want to be told what to do and how to do it. And the organizational leader will have to determine what to do with supervisors who refuse to make the transition from bosses to coaches and facilitators.
In 1988, William C. Byham wrote a wonderful fable entitled Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment. With the help of Ralph and his "Ralph-olator," which could inject people into the 12th dimension, a company, that believed in ultra-tight control, slowly became a great place to work and returned to competitiveness. After spending some time observing people from his 12th dimension vantage point, Joe Mode, a supervisor, wrote in his notebook that "When you have been zapped (given power), you feel like…
Your job belongs to you.
You are responsible.
Your job counts for something.
You know where you stand.
You have some say in how things are done.
Your job is a part of who you are.
You have some control over your work."
That's what empowerment means to the person on the front line. That is the person who your customers see more than anyone else. There's a good chance that a "zapped" person will give the customer a much better impression of the facilities department than one who has been "sapped" (drained of power). The benefits compound. An empowered work force is self-directed and much more efficient. Fewer supervisors and managers are required. A complete layer of management can often be eliminated and retrained for other positions. The supervisors and managers who remain can concentrate on where the organization needs to go next and new ways to realize the vision. They can anticipate, rather than react.
Organizations can no longer be effective without shared control. With targeted training and boundary setting, any organization can be transformed. The difference in the campus community's perception of your organization's performance may surprise you.