“Empowering” workers is more than a catchy phrase

In a recent Financial Times article accompanied by the headline: “‘Big Brother’ managers should turn the lens on themselves, Rana Foroohar, the newspaper’s Global Business Columnist, made a compelling argument for why the increased surveillance of workers is not the answer within our increasingly hybrid working world.

Stats such as the 13.5% increase in the number of meetings attended by employees during the pandemic speaks of industries and sectors ill at ease in affording workers more autonomy and trust, especially in settings where ‘clocking in, clocking out’ has been a core routine for decades or longer.

The remote work disconnect

Survey results from Microsoft, published back in September, pinpointed this friction, highlighting that while 87% of participants felt they were “as, or more” productive when working from home, a staggering 80% of managers disagreed with the very same statement. Speaking to the BBC, the company’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, urged companies to look beyond what he termed the “productivity paranoia” and seek real and practical solutions to fix this “disconnect”.

The number of companies using data surveillance software to track employee activities has doubled since the beginning of the pandemic, and Foroohar’s column put forward three challenges in response. Not only are workers more stressed and resentful of being monitored closely, but creative activities – vital in so many organisations – are much harder to quantify and reflect accurately by metrics alone. In addition, research showing that 70% of meetings actually keep employees from doing more productive work puts the onus on managers and our organisational leaders alike to do better.

The inner CEO

And that is where the work and insight of Jeremy Blain, Chief Executive of PerformanceWorks International, is worth considering. Backing up the long-held belief that workers tend to leave managers rather than companies when they switch roles, Jeremy’s excellent book “The Inner CEO: Unleashing leaders at all Levels” was one topic that came up during our broad-ranging conversation on the 1% Podcast

Distribution of leadership

Jeremy advocates that developing leaders across all levels of a business is the most effective response for any organisation experiencing significant and fundamental change. In reality, he’s talking about the vast majority of companies right now as they not only embrace digital transformation but also try to address the enormous organisational shifts brought about by blended workplaces, remote working, the so-called ‘Great Resignation”, and our teams being more diverse in nature than ever before.

Empowerment

Business leaders trying to ensure the consistent implementation of a strategy – simply – are unlikely to have both the capacity and expertise to be the only ones to provide relevant guidance through the cultural changes required to embed these same plans. Why does that mean in plain English? It takes a group effort to sustain change. That alone requires honesty and self-reflection at the highest level within management but is also why empowering “inner CEOs” and focusing on utilising talent with a small ‘t’ helps to deliver ongoing and more permanent buy-in from employees.

Speaking to the 1% Podcast, Jeremy explained: “The scope and scale of transformational shift that leaders are dealing with is something I call ‘The Triple Now’. It’s a digital transformation that is happening, a workforce shift, and a piece in the middle of those that is about connectivity, new ways of working, and eco systems.

“All of these mean a leader can be stretched in areas that they potentially have zero capability in. And this is already a reason to include a sense of ‘how do we distribute leadership in a better way’ so that organisations can use the expertise and experience of people in their organisation in more strategic ways.”

Reverse mentoring

Reverse mentoring was one example given during the podcast episode. It has been used to impressive effect by Citibank where millennials have been invited into the boardroom to share their insights around technology and social media, which has the dual consequence of giving younger workers greater buy-in and a feeling of making an important contribution.

Human-centered leadership

Jeremy went on: “There is also a demand from employees for more human-centred leadership – more empathy-driven, more collective, and more empowering leadership. Employees are ready to help and want to be part of the solution. They don’t want to be told what to do all of the time.

“Saying that, leaders do need time. They are navigating uncertain futures right now so by empowering more people to think about what the next two or three years might hold, all this together allows for empowerment (of employees) to flourish.”

Jeremy’s book, The Inner CEO, includes specific tools, frameworks, and templates while providing a strong foundation for any leader looking for practical supports through the implementation of sustainable change in their organisation.

In creating a new sense of ownership, involvement, and trust within an organisation, such an environment will also serve as a motivational tool for its employees. Workers that feel part of the tribe will naturally have a vested interest beyond their specific duties, while the business will feel the benefit of being closer to clients, customers, industry trends, early warning signs, and potential opportunities alike.