Think Shift Academy Video: Employee Empowerment

Get Smarter Videos - Mar 28, 2017

David Lazarenko
Leadership & Culture

David Lazarenko discusses how an authority style decision-making model can help enforce employee empowerment.

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Today I want to talk to you about employee empowerment. Employee empowerment is not a new concept. It’s a concept that a lot of organizations talk about. It’s a concept that a lot of organizations preach and they understand that it’s an important concept to their culture. Unfortunately, employee empowerment is very easily left sitting on the poster on the wall because it’s very difficult to act out. This is why we believe that intentional decision-making models are critical because decision-making is really where employee empowerment lives.

One of those models which we believe really pushes employee empowerment more than others is the authority style decision-making model. To really grasp the authority style decision-making model, it is important to understand its three components. The first is the science, the second is the art and the third is the culture.

Let’s start with the science of the authority style decision-making model, which is really made up of three primary components. The first one, and probably the most critical, is that a single decision maker is assigned for any decision. That’s one individual. Not a group, not a pair, but one individual.

The second component is that that individual is entrusted to go and seek input before making their decision. It is not enough for them simply to trust their gut to make the decision. The third component is that every individual above the chain of command from the decision-maker has the power of veto.

Now, it’s very important to understand, though, that veto should not be used carelessly. The only reason veto should ever be used is if someone above the decision-maker has a preponderance of evidence that the decision that’s going to be made will not work out in the best interests of the organization.

Now let’s talk about the art of the authority style decision-making model. While the science is really straight forward, the art is less so and it’s really something you’re going to get better at over time. The art is made up of two primary components. The first one is: what decision needs to be made? This may seem really straightforward, but in reality it isn’t because it’s always a juggling act between how broad or how narrow the decision is.

A good example of a broad decision is: what should our corporate giving policy be? That’s a very broad decision because there’s many different answers to it. Something more narrow would be: how much money should we put towards charity this year? A very narrow decision.

The second component is: who should be making the decision? This might seem simple again, but in reality it isn’t because again, you’ve got a juggling act between the depth and the breadth of understanding. Those at higher levels in the organization will have a greater breadth of knowledge of the organization, whereas those at lower levels, those on the ground doing the work will have a greater depth of understanding.

What you really want to try and achieve is a balance between those two and that’s why we suggest that middle management really is that perfect level. If you can find individuals at middle management who can make the decision, they have that really nice combination of both breadth and depth.

If you don’t have middle management, we always suggest you push the decision-making down. Push it down to those who are closer to the impact the decision will have on the ground. It’s not simply because of the impact, but it’s also because there will be individuals with the power of veto above them and you can always reverse a decision that may not be in the best interests, whereas if you have someone at a higher level in the organization making the decision, there may not be a veto holder. Therefore, bad decisions may not go challenged.

Finally, let’s talk about the culture of the authority style decision-making model. This is really a critical component of it because this is where you see the results of employee empowerment. If you are practicing the culture of the authority style decision-making model properly, the decision maker will feel fully empowered to make decisions that may be contrary to their superiors, and that really is the true essence of employee empowerment.

For the culture of the authority style decision-making model, we provide four guidelines. The first one is candid input. Those who are sought for input should provide candid input. Essentially they should share what is on their mind, not something at face value just simply to appease the decision maker.

The other thing with candid input is, those who are above the decision maker should make sure that they’re not providing input in the form of directive. The second critical guiding principle is that there is no “I told you so’s.” Individuals who hold the power of veto who do not use it must support the decision as if it was their own, even if it goes bad. There is no “I told you so’s.”

The third guiding principle is to acknowledge great decisions, especially those that are counter to the superior. This is really where you reinforce the employee empowerment. If a decision maker makes a decision that is knowingly contrary to what the superior would have and that decision turns out very well, it is important to elevate that decision for all to see.

Finally, the last guiding principle is: if a decision does not turn out well, use it as a teaching moment. Those who hold the power of veto, again, must own decisions as if they were their own. Therefore, if they do not turn out, they should also own them as if they’re their own and work with the decision maker to determine why it didn’t work out and how they can learn going forward.

So, there you go. That’s the science, the art, and the culture of the authority style decision-making model. We believe it really helps to enforce employee empowerment and I hope you give it a try.