Empowerment of professional managers
May 14 2012, 10:53 | By SME Mentor
Prashant Parashar is director and principal consultant of Potentia, a strategic human resources support company.
Image: SME Mentor
The one most important factor for deriving the best from professional managers is "empowerment", in absence of which the promoter entrepreneur can take it for granted that the professional manager will be practically defunct and the whole purpose of getting the professional manager in the team is lost.
While most promoters are aware of this phenomenon, they generally quote mixed feelings on the subject of empowerment. Some feel it is difficult to let go, yet there are many who have experienced the serious damage it has done when they tried empowering a professional manager and yet there a few who would say it has done wonders for the success of the enterprise. Given the fact that no business can grow beyond a size without professional managers, it is critical to examine why empowerment works and why it does not.
Empowerment is a necessary condition for success of professional manager and hence for the business but it is not a sufficient condition. There are factors that go hand in hand to make empowerment work.
Clarity: Apart from empowerment being "enabling a person to exercise decision-making" it is also a state of mind and in that sense a perception. Hence, not only should this exist in day-to-day practice, it needs to be perceived by the professional manager. The promoter or entrepreneur needs to reinforce from time to time, making the professional manager realize and practice decision making by feeling empowered.
Boundary Conditions: No one in this world has absolute and unconditional power or authority, certainly not in a business enterprise. While empowering a professional manager, the rules of the game or where the person needs to consult, inform, seek guidance or approval must be clarified, and then the role of the promoter is to work as a conscious keeper, reflecting the moves that are going in unintended direction. This would helm in setting expectations and reminding when necessary.
Monitoring Mechanism: To eliminate the possibility of "one fine morning... I was shocked to hear..." there has to be systemic monitoring mechanism. In a culture of data-driven, fact-based or a dashboard process of reporting the metrics go a long way in identifying at an early stage if something is going wrong, or if a plan or process is not working. This would prevent the possibilities of surprise and then the resultant withdrawal of empowerment. The added advantage of dashboard and periodic review mechanism is debate, deliberation and decisions based on evidence, not on emotion. One might say that great decisions in many cases come from the gut. No denying, but such decisions are normally taken after looking at the evidence, metrics and numbers. Actually numbers and metrics rarely give any decision; they are only symptoms of a challenge, opportunity or an issue.
Continuum: Empowerment is a gradual, progressive and a continuous process rather than a one-time affair. It works on the same principle that there is neither a completely socialistic economy not a completely capitalistic one - it is only a proportion of freedom and control, and any economy goes through a process of evolution based on the success of many progressive steps. Similarly, empowerment is a process of evolution over a period of time is based on progressive steps in the right direction and celebration in this journey can work better than spurts of forward and backward steps.
Tolerance for Mistake: Nothing in this world is perfect, neither the promoter nor the professional manager. Any progressive step or a measure will have its own share of problems and challenges. While empowerment solves a bigger issue of "unrealized potential of people and enterprise" it invites new challenges which if taken in right perspective can throw many opportunities. Appropriate monitoring mechanism can ward off the possibilities of surprise, coupled with tolerance for mistakes it can bring about increased accountability and ownership for results.
There is no point in hiring professional managers if the promoter entrepreneur cannot empower them. When exercised appropriately, it can be fascinating experience that can benefit all - customers, employees and generate immense return on investment.
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