Why empowerment without accountability is chaos at work

Economic downturns are fertile ground for soul-searching and revisiting the proposed ROI on all business activities. I am amazed that some HR business activities are immune from the great review. It is almost considered blasphemy to question conventional HR practices such as employee satisfaction surveys or employee relations efforts. Leaders that question the true value and impact on culture of these activities are seen, at times, as demonic in the HR ranks.  

And yet I remain a firm believer in the fact that we must challenge a great deal of what we have been taught as HR “gospel.” Frustrated leaders are finding that the approaches that have been endorsed by many are working for few. 

Most leaders have jumped blindly on the “empowerment” bandwagon, working hard to give their employees the power to direct their own workflow. Great theory – who would not want to be self-directing and free? Unfortunately, those adopting this philosophy dangerously assume that thosebeing empowered are also highly personally accountable. When in fact, empowerment without accountability is chaos! 

The same employees who insist on empowerment also insist on having a group of employee relations specialists reserved for them in HR to enable them in their relationships with their leaders. If any issue arises,they need not take accountability for their own dissatisfaction, but can instead invoke the resources of HR to facilitate that process. Empowerment and accountability must go hand in hand. When we are funding one without insisting on the other, resources are wasted and dysfunction reigns supreme.

The chaos is heightened when leaders, seeking to empower their employees, conduct an employee satisfaction survey weighting all responses as equally valuable. In the survey, the employees all comment on what they would need to be even more successful in their positions. The flawed assumption here is that all who are answering the surveys have the same level of personal accountability. The problem is that at least 30% of those surveyed are low in personal accountability and living life as victims. Any action onthe suggestions of the victims will only prolong the entitlement mindset and will be a complete waste of time and money. 

To make matters worse, leaders have blindly bought into the concept that engagement and happiness come from lack of stress or issues at work. When in fact, engagement and happiness come from the level of personal accountability people exhibit in their own lives. So instead of spending time and resources on surveys to find out how to change the circumstances of your employees, spend your precious time and energy teaching your employees how to succeed in spite of their circumstances. Work to “bullet-proof” your people instead of attempting to make their world a cozier place. Once your people are resilient, learning-agile and personally accountable, they are immune to the random “shocks” that come their way. Their engagement actually increases as they gain confidence – not from you softening their world. 

If you simply must spend resources on satisfaction surveys, adopt a better approach! Add in a second component that will help you know how much credence to give the responses. I would propose that the accountability level of each respondent be assessed at the time they are surveyed about their satisfaction levels, in a manner that keeps individual responses and accountability levels anonymous. Then to restore sanity to the process, leaders can assign a weight to the responses. So those responses that originate from those employees scoring high in accountability are weighted at a higher leveland deemed more worthy of attention than those suggestions originating from the“victims.” 

To the leader that wants to skip the expensive satisfaction surveys and implement this concept tomorrow – ask each of your people, “What is one thing you need to be more productive in your work?” Then follow up byasking them “What are three things you are willing to do to get what you have requested.”For example, if the employee answers that they would need access to information and better communication from the leaders, then they need to identify three things that they can do to get what they need. Leadership made simple and easy!

Challenge all that you have come to believe as the truth. Change the way you think. Change the way you lead. 

Remember, Cy rocks and you rock.

Lead on my friend.

 

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