by Phil Manington

Rules, systems and processes

The systems and processes of your organisation must support the principles of empowerment. Look at the profile in What an empowered culture looks like and ask yourself whether your systems will fit into this type of culture.

Some rules are needed – at the very least you must obey the laws of the land. Also, there may be many processes that have been developed over the years that are probably the best way of doing things. However, there will also be rules that inhibit people from doing the best they can. And there will be processes that stifle initiative and force people to do things that don’t seem to add value. Living with these rules and processes every day will encourage your people to obey – not to think or be creative and suggest improvements.

Even worse, there will be procedures that must be followed but that are in direct contradiction to what you want to happen. For example, there will probably be a variety of forms that you have to sign (time sheets, requisitions, complaint statistics and so on) at the same time as you are telling your staff that you trust them to do things without you watching over them.

Work should be a place of community, where people can be honest and genuine in their interactions. If you want people to care about carrying out your company’s mission, create a workplace that cares about them through policies as well as through relationships.

Nathan Baxter, Dean of Washington National Cathedral

Of course, some of these procedures will implement important controls, but others won’t. You need to review all your systems and procedures and ensure that they encourage your team members, rather than inhibiting or obstructing empowered behaviour.

Case study

Ralph Stayer, CEO of Johnsonville Sausage, recognised that, although his business was very successful, he needed to make some fundamental changes if it were to remain so in an increasingly competitive market. There seemed to him to be a large gap between potential and actual performance. Stayer says:

‘What worried me more than the competition, however, was the gap between potential and performance. Our people didn’t seem to care. Every day I came to work and saw people so bored by their jobs that they made thoughtless, dumb mistakes. They mislabelled products or added the wrong seasonings or failed to mix them into the sausage properly ... These were accidents. No-one was deliberately wasting money, time or materials; it was just that people took no responsibility for their work.’

Stayer realised that the quality control process was encouraging this lack of responsibility. He changed it so that the workers on the production line became responsible for checking quality – tasting the sausages themselves. They took to this enthusiastically and formed teams to resolve quality problems, with the result that rejects fell from 5 per cent to 0.5 per cent.

Your systems and procedures should provide a clear framework within which your people can operate with a sense of empowerment. Start with the most visible ones and ask yourself how they need to change to encourage the behaviour you want to see.