Own It – Empowerment and Ownership – Part Three

In the previous part of the Own It series, we discussed the employee-manager relationship and how the balance of power between the two is crucial for a functional dynamic. Now, let’s go a bit further.

There is a lot of talk about “empowerment” in the business world without a deep understanding of what it really means or how to foster it. (Again, more stock language.) While it’s the employee’s job to adequately perform work “for” the manager, it is the manager’s responsibility to develop the career of the employee and aid their professional growth such that the employee doesn’t feel like they’re doing it “for” someone else. In other words, the employee is self-interested.

This means the manager gives more than just money in exchange for the service of the employee. They enhance at the level of skill, knowledge, and awareness in the professional domain. The benefit that the manager receives from this arrangement is that their employee becomes better at what they do and becomes more responsible.

Responsibility. Do you see we’ve arrived all the way back to this original idea? You can think of the development of a business as the process of the owner delegating more and more responsibility until they no longer have to be involved in the business and it stands on its own.

Just like a good parent raises a child that one day ought not need them; a healthy business is one that does not need its owner. Such a business has “grown up.” The process of creating such a business includes systemization, which pushes responsibility into automation to some degree. But there is more to it than that. Most businesses cannot be completely or even significantly automated.

The genius of Michael Gerber was that he saw McDonald’s apply the assembly line automation principles of line manufacturing to the restaurant business. No one had ever done that before. Gerber wanted to apply this principle to every kind of business, and it’s a revolutionary idea.

However, not every industry benefits as significantly from the concept. McDonald’s succeeded in using unskilled labor to deliver consistent results. The lower the skill-level necessary for the employee, the more systems can be relied upon for quality. The more skill, knowledge, and awareness required the fewer systems will serve.

Think of an advertising agency, a brain surgeon, or a consulting firm, for example. Sure, aspects of such businesses can be systematized, but a certain amount always depend on the skill, knowledge, and awareness of its people.

The solution, then, is a balance of systemization and ownership of responsibility. This is true employee empowerment. Whatever you cannot systematize and/or automate, you rely on people to “own.” That is, take responsibility for the result in such a way that no one else has to worry about it.

Business leaders need bandwidth—time, energy, and resources—in order to develop strategy and do the high-level work to plan the future of the company for years to come. This is an enormous responsibility.

Most business owners are immensely responsible, as evidenced by the survival of their shop. Business ownership requires a level of fortitude, courage, and determination that many employees will never understand.

The challenging task for a business owner is to teach their employees to “own” their job in the way the business owner owns the entire business. This is an immense challenge in a number of ways, which we will talk about in the next part of this series.

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