While there are numerous sources that put the onus on supervision and management to maintain worker morale and to provide a work environment that is conducive to growth and development that is not the case with this book. For any activity to be successful all parts of it must function well and together and that includes the workers. I would actually have to say that the worker has a greater part to play in their own destiny now than in previous years as the corporate culture and social dynamics has developed more toward a happy, productive, and well informed worker. Whereas in the past it was more geared toward the company and their goals with little thought to the worker taking the organization there, we can actually see this change in the research and development of workplace (social) psychology, organization development, and occupational health and safety, just to mention a few areas of change. We can thank the information age for these changes and we can expect more as we learn more and that information is shared throughout society and thus all levels of every organization.
Empowerment and Agency
In the parlance of the business world, empowerment is the authority given by the company to the employees to do what is required to get the job done. There are certain things that must be in place within the organization to make empowerment work. It is not as easy as waving of the hands and yea verily thou art empowered. Words alone will not work, but the words and actions must be congruent. The actions of the company and the management must be consistent to ensure empowerment.
As can be seen over the course of many years, in the Gallup study, employees are not often fully engaged. This brings up the concept of agency. Agency is about being active, not passive. It is the ability and desire of people to take active measures to meet challenges and opportunities as these are presented. Executives are working to create an environment that ensures the best performance from all members of the team. This requires the team members to have agency. Agency is that feeling of being in control of your life. Agency provides an impetus for an individual to act, both in their personal life as well as their work life. Empowerment is giving the authority to the employee or worker, and agency is that within the worker that will ensure actions take place as needed.
A good example of the prerequisites for empowerment can be found on the leadership freak blog:
- 1. Confident leaders who elevate others. The people at the top have the most power to make people feel safe. Fearful workers reflect controlling leaders.
- 2. Frequent feedback given in small doses.
- 3- Clear boundaries. Transparency regarding nonnegotiable policies, for example.
- 4. Predictable responses to failure.
- 5. Structures that protect against catastrophic failure.
- 6. Reluctant intervention from leadership.
- 7- Team members who know and leverage their strengths and weaknesses.
- 8. Shared values. Strongly aligned values are the foundation of trustworthy empowerment. Never give power to those who don’t share your values.
- 9- Clear vision. Empowerment is chaos apart from clear vision.
Figure 8.5 Poor experiences over time will likely impact the motivation of the team members.
- 10. Short-term goals that provide daily direction.
- 11. Shared and agreed upon accountability.
- 12. Taking responsibility as well as authority. Empowered people own and fix their own screwups. Running to mommy-leader to make everything OK reinforces helplessness.
An organization that is inconsistent in the application of these principles will find developing an empowered organization difficult, and in fact this empowerment philosophy is a prerequisite for the follow on part of agency.
In their book, The Power of Agency, the authors Paul Napper and Anthony Rao describe the seven principles for building agency:
- 1. Control Stimuli - cut back on distractions, consciously choose the focus of attention and effort.
- 2. Associate Selectively-suitable support network that helps maintain motivation and well-being.
- 3- Move - the body is just as important as the mind, balance work with life and physical activity, develop and maintain strength and stamina.
- 4. Constant Learner - actively question, listen and constantly work to know more, integrate learning as part of the daily routine.
- 5. Manage Emotions - control strong feelings and beliefs that may impede or derail, working with people and building agency requires a safe space for exploration and learn, strong emotional outbursts may not help.
- 6. Check Intuition — sometimes intuition is helpful, and sometimes it is more like jumping to conclusions use intution wisely and not impulsively.
- 7- Deliberate then act - think first, uncover alternatives, and rationally and systematically weigh the options, before deciding or taking a clear and decisive position.
There has been much written on psychological safety in the workplace. Empowerment and agency are contingent upon the level of psychological safety. Exploration can mean failure at times, and the organization’s response to that failure (item 4 predictable response) will set the tone for amount of exploration, and how much agency the employee will have, or believe they have. Where empowerment is an external environmental attribute, agency is internal. Elowever, if the environment is poor, there is likely no internal agency, or a strong sense of agency.
When an organization obtains a new member of the team that individual most commonly comes with a high level, or higher, of motivation than a more seasoned member and less experience with the processes of the organization than the longer term member. As this new member gains a better understanding about the organization and their position over time through experiences and training, both of which are learning, their level of knowledge will increase and their motivation will commonly decrease. This effect of this declination of motivation is most commonly due to the negative experiences experienced by that individual as we discussed in chapter one as the leadership equation and the effect of experiences. The relationship between learning and motivation is very direct, in that we mean that as an individual or group of people become more informed, learn, their motivational requirements and motivation change as well. Organizations need to view learning as active and passive. Active learning can be considered that which is learned through training specifically designed for a task or position, whereas passive learning is that which is learned through the environment which someone works in.
Training has become very institutionalized for the sake of ease of delivery, rapid deployment of training, training for the sake of training, or training to make something work. We use the word learning rather than training because learning something requires a greater understanding be developed then that provided by superficial training. Even though we have previously discussed different styles of learning and tailoring the training, hopefully learning based, to those styles, we do not promote that any one style is effective or that you can truly determine, if one even exists, what style best fits an individual and even if you could the cost of restructuring the training for every individual would be neither effective nor logistically feasible. The two things we are promoting are that the training provided should facilitate learning and when delivered to individuals it should be in such a manner to cause understanding of the process or procedure in a manner that allows both the teacher and recipient to improve both self and the process or procedure. This would be an example of all the five disciplines discussed in The Fifth Discipline.
In the previous section we discussed what we are calling active learning: structured and presented training that is designed to facilitate learning a specific topic. This section we will discuss passive learning: learning that occurs through observation by the individual and interaction with other people at all levels. We could look at passive learning as environmental learning. In that, we mean the climate and culture established by management, supervision, and other workers through the organization’s mission, vision, and values statements and how those statements are actually employed. The key is how they are actually employed because if these statements are not in fact followed they create a negative passive learning environment. Passive learning, like active learning, is a two-way street in that all the parties involved in the interaction take something away from the interaction or lack thereof.
How is active and passive learning something the worker is responsible for? To answer that question, we need look no further than the book The Fifth Discipline and read about personal mastery. Personal Mastery as described by Peter Senge is learning to improve one’s self and promote an environment that excites others to do the same.* We must remember that learning and being taught something are two different things. If we are just taught how to tie our shoes that is all we can do with that information, but if we are challenged, by ourselves or others, to develop an understanding of tying our shoes we can apply that or those principles to numerous other endeavors. This deeper understanding can also be used to develop our systems thinking.*
The Worker and Change Management
Workers don’t manage change do they? This is a rhetorical question. Of course workers don’t “Manage” change, but they play a large role in both the effectiveness of and implementation or lack thereof in change management and the changes themselves. To provide an analogy it is like driving a car. The car does not determine where you drive it per se but does determine numerous facets of how you get there: stops for gas, max speed, ease of directing or lack thereof, responsiveness to corrections in direction or speed, and even if you will make it to your destination at all (breakdown). In this example there are several variables, but these variables can be controlled to some extent (i.e., the gas mileage will vary based upon the manner in which the vehicle is driven). The same would be true to the manner in which the worker is treated and allowed to develop or is developed.
Let us think about the message we provide our personnel, both through our mission, vision, and values statements and through our actual actions and interactions with said personnel; do we maintain a consistent message and do we provide an explanation for when we do not maintain these constant? There are times when a change is implemented that management and supervision must employ different styles of leadership to different individuals and this change of style could produce negative reactions from the worker(s). This reaction cotdd then be seen as a negative change result by management and supervision and an otherwise needed or affective change could be cancelled. Worker reaction to a change should be discussed and understood. And this can only be done through open and active discussion and exchange of information and ideas.
So to extend our analogy used in the beginning, we should maintain our vehicle (motivation and develop our personnel), we should not drive in an unsafe manner (do not unnecessarily cycle our personnel), and we should keep their tank full (always be sharing and developing our personnel).
In the management section we discussed inculcating and we said that this word has many meanings, both evoking positive and negative connotations. We also went on to discuss that inculcating has the meaning of teaching and that this teaching should be based on the mission, vision, and values of the organization. This would be primarily because these are the things that will set the culture of an organization. So why would we discuss this in the management section and in the worker section? We discussed how management can set the stage for an organization’s culture and/or environment, but those in management are not the actors on the stage. As we have alluded to throughout this book no one part of an organization can make a learning organization, but any one part can stop it from becoming one. The one part of an organization that is most commonly the largest and with the most dynamics is its workforce. The good news is that the workforce sets cultural norms within itself; thus with the right reinforcement or incentive it will direct itself. However, this establishment of organizational norms could also hold negative values if not properly established and nurtured. It also has external forces acting upon it in the form of societal and group norms which each individual who works within the organization brings with them every day to one extent or another. This, like with most things we have discussed, is both positive and negative depending on how it is employed within the organization, department, and team/group.
So how do we apply this in a manner that will promote a learning organization? While there is no one size fits all answer there are some key tenets such as promoting an environment that is open and embraces the differences within the group. This is not to say that lively discussions should not occur, but they should be done in a manner that allows the development of a better understanding between all concerned versus using cognitive biases and other such techniques to stifle one or more of the parties involved in the discussion or activity. This would be an example of what we have coined as an open mental model, which is likened after one of the fifth disciplines, mental model,* but taken to its logical next step.
Knowledge sharing for the worker is different than knowledge sharing for other members of an organization. As we discussed throughout this book and asked questions about in the supervisor section called knowledge sharing, the messenger and recipient of knowledge (initially information) determine the manner of delivery and actions from that information. This tailoring of information (from now on we refer to as knowledge) by the parties involved in the exchange is based on the perceived understanding of the use and need from said knowledge. This would make it seem that as one developed a better understanding, systems thinking/ the amount of work accomplished and the delivery quality would change as well, resulting in continued improvement. As a member of the team develops their knowledge sharing can become more refined, more detailed and continuously reviewed by the other team members for veracity. So, let’s take that one step further into rate of change. Where do we suspect the greatest rate of change in a member’s knowledge level occurs? Logically it would be the new member or the member with the least experience in some specific area. This relatively larger rate of change in knowledge can make a member feel overwhelmed at times, but it can also provide motivation via the growth of the individual. However, this rate of growth can only be maintained if the environment will support it. As with plants if they grow too fast for their environment they can actually wither and die. This will not cause a team member to die, but it would have a dramatic effect on their motivational outlook.
In the beginning of this book we discussed the leadership equation developed by Kurt Lewin and broke this equation down to its basic sources. From this we were able to ascertain that experience, seen in the equation as Exp, is the primary driver.
And as we just discussed in the previous paragraph there is a direct relationship between experiences and how, when, where, and why we share knowledge. We can also take this application a step further to motivation if we look at the effect of positive experiences on the rate and development of knowledge sharing which again amplifies the positive experience yet again increasing motivation. It would almost seem like a perpetual motion machine for development and motivation. When this type of environment is obtained care must be used because as the rate of anything increases there is less reaction time and the momentum could carry the organization, department, group, or individual further away from the goal before it understood. This is where the development of systems thinking and personal mastery assist all those involved.
Tell a Man What Not to Do, And He’ll Most Assuredly Do It, Change His Process, and He’ll Never Do It Again!