Empowered workers or “quack quack” employees?

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Some time ago, I talked about one of the keys to leadership, what we know nowadays as empowerment. Let me recall briefly the three steps that give empowered employees according Ken Blanchard:

  • Sharing information with everyone
  • Creating independence
  • Replacing hierarchies with self-managed teams

These principles and other interesting thoughts can be found in Leading at a Higher Level by Ken Blanchard. Because although empowering employees may seem like an optional task, it’s not. Imagine an everyday situation like shopping in a grocery store: A difference arises over the marked price of a product and that given on the cash register (which is more, obviously). The sales clerk has to call her supervisor because she doesn’t have sufficient authorization to correct the price, which is the one shown on the label. This increases the waiting time, not only for the customer being attended but also for those waiting in line. All just for the sake of a few cents. It’s a situation that Blanchard describes as the duck pond. Instead of being empowered, the employees are restricted in their decision-making capacity. When this happens, Blanchard says that the only response left for the employee is a “quack, quack.” The energy that should be focused on satisfying the customer has been dedicated to “satisfying” the policy.

The problem is that nowdays, where there is usually more supply of products and services than demand, you can only compete on price, exclusivity or added value. Competing on price is not usually a good idea. You can only do it by exclusivity if you have something really special and difficult to copy to offer. So the best way is to offer that extra that makes the difference. And do to that, you need to have empowered employees. Because a single person with the ability to decide, a certain level of independence and the necessary information can give that extra value to the customer at the right time.

Companies often forget that it is that “employee” that gives the “official face” of the company at that moment. When you ring customer serice, for example in a telecom company, the voice that answers your call is the voice of the company. When that person has so little room for maneuver that you have to make several calls and put up with long waits for an apparently simple ction, the impression that you will be left with of the company will be poor. Many think that as most customer service hotlines are scarce, it won’t matter if yours is like that too. But I can assure you that that experience will be left in the customer’s front of mind, and sooner or later you will pay for that inefficiency, for being in the “duck pond.”

Do you think you empower your employees? Do you feel empowered by your “bosses”? Do you know a “quack-quack” style company?