Empowerment, and Engagement in a Digital World.... the Musings of an Analogue Mind

Posted in : HR Updates on 23 February 2023
Hugh McPoland
Clarendon Executive
Issues covered: Empowerment; Employee Engagement; Artificial Intelligence

Empowerment is now a pervasive part of our business and HR language and has been for some time, but still we are being urged more and more to empower workforces to contribute to organisation success through higher levels of customer satisfaction.

My first recollection of what is now considered empowerment in action was in the wonderful books, In Search of Excellence (1982) and a Passion for Excellence (1985), where Tom Peters and his colleagues Robert Waterman and Nancy Austin radicalised the thinking of management away from strategy to the softer issues of management and not just hard-headed rationality. The books showcase case studies of organisations who got the notion of action rather than a strategy, staying close to people and that organisational productivity was through people among other themes. My favourite was the example of the hotel staff, who were empowered to spend money on clients’ requests if the hotel did not have what was requested. Now remember this was before Deliveroo, Uber or other delivery services and would have meant the hotel staff going to the local store and finding the relevant preferences of the customer. (This is known as staying close to the customer).

Many will argue that now is not the 1980s and that companies compete in a digital world and companies invest significantly in digital algorithms to identify customers, assess their feedback and prompt them to try other products. While there are many digital only companies starting to thrive, they still need to have people somewhere in the process at least until ChatGpt, New Bing, Jasper et al. become ubiquitous in our daily work life.

My point really is the truths of the 1980 are still valid; it is essential that all employees should be aware that their best efforts are indispensable for organisational success. But to achieve that success we need to ensure that those people are equipped with the skills and the power to do what is necessary to ensure that the customer experience is one which ensures repeat business and added shareholder value. If modern day companies and entrepreneurs are willing to invest in algorithms and source code to do this, surely they must recognise that they must also invest in the softer but potentially more effective human element of the organisation; a (wo)man, waiting for motivation and being allowed to take the action that is required for organisation success (being empowered) and being able to influence the organisation plans and culture (engagement).

But if the truths of the Excellence books are still true why, why have we not yet achieved empowerment in all our organisations. Is it that we trust digital platforms more than people? The dangers of empowering computers, machine learning platforms, call them what you will, at the expense of people are really quite significant. I would urge those who have not watched the Terminator movies do so; they are a warning not a guideline.

On a different note I do wonder what ChatGpt, New Bing, Jasper et al. might have written about this.

This article is correct at 23/02/2023

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Hugh McPoland
Clarendon Executive

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