Most organisations know that the best way to change culture is through engagement and involvement of as many people as possible. Empowerment of managers to take responsibility at all levels rather than central control through hierarchy is the normal approach these days. Involvement of the workforce in what the culture needs to be and how to define it, is gradually seeing a welcome (in my view) shift from management speak and meaningless vision and mission statements to ‘how we do things around here’ words in ordinary, simple and therefore meaningful language. Empowerment is the modern way to drive culture change.
But where does this leave the senior leadership of the business? I’ve written before about the risks of a cultural drive centering around the personality of the CEO who is perceived by everyone to own the change, so I’m not talking about the CEOs real and necessary role as flag carrier for the change. I’m talking about the rest of the senior team: your CFO, Marketing Director, Sales Director, your Operations heads.
There is often a worrying trend of senior teams stepping right back, waving their arms at the managers and saying ‘you are all empowered so get on with it!’ and then getting back to their ‘real job’. This is even more evident when the CEO rallies every aspect of the change around themselves. Its as if there is no place for them in the new empowered, everyone engaged, culture changes around the world, and this, to me, is a risk. Your senior people are there for a reason (or they should be). They are all capable of leading change in their own right. They should be more leaders than managers at that level and be well aware that leaders change things for managers to manage. It’s just that an empowering approach to change means they are less the directors of changes that they may have been used to in the past. For many this can be disengaging or disempowering.
So how do you avoid disengaging the most automatically empowered level of the business?
It’s a case of revisiting and redefining their purpose and as a result their role in an empowered culture change.
Look at it this way. For someone to be empowered, then someone needs to empower them. That someone is their leader. When you see that sentence it shows that empowerment is not a passive act, it is an involved and active act of giving power. If it is passive it becomes abandonment not empowerment, and abandonment leads to chaos at best, but stagnation is the norm, because people need leadership.
So looking at empowerment in change, the mere fact that it is change we are talking about implies that the empowered person is being empowered to do things that they have not been empowered to do before. And this in turn implies that they may have latent capability (or you would never empower them) but not current capability. An newly empowered person is therefore embarking on a period of experiential learning and their empowerer is immediately their trainer, their coach, their mentor, their guide and their support through that learning opportunity.
And who better to coach their managers in the challenges of leading change? The difficulties of managing others in an empowered way? In exploring the change in managers style necessary in the new culture? Who can share the most experience in removing roadblocks? Who has experienced change going wrong? Managing resistance? Hiccups? Who can best help others remain patient and teach them that change takes time?
The answer to these questions should be your senior leaders. And their purpose in an empowered approach to change is to show the organisation what empowerment really is and their role is to be the change coach for their managers and direct reports.
No longer a driver, but certainly not a passenger.