Change Thinking

Despite all the business change knowledge uncovered during the last 50 years, many seasoned change management professionals still aren’t adequately prepared to serve those trying to navigate their way through today’s turbulence. Change Thinking is an effort to have an exchange with, and be part of, a community of practitioners committed to raising the level of their game and that of the field of change execution.

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3 Elements of Empowered Relationships

Categories: Empowerment

In this series, I have discussed several aspects of empowered relationships—what they are and what they are not—so that you can use this concept/perspective to help your sponsor achieve success. In this last post, I’ll cover three basic yet powerful elements that combine to form empowerment-based relationships—beliefs, motivations, and actions.

Beliefs (The Foundation)

What the Sponsor Believes

  • He or she doesn't have enough information to make the best decisions
  • He or she can improve the quality of decisions by obtaining input from select individuals
  • The right to receive input has to be earned; this is done by respecting the information empowered people offer
  • The sponsor must be explicit about his or her influence criteria
  • Honesty is more valuable than comfort

What Empowered People Believe

  • They earn influence, and it is worth the effort
  • They have something to contribute to the quality of specific decisions
  • They are responsible for helping the sponsor determine the best course to follow
  • The sponsor values honesty over comfort
  • The sponsor truly wants input from credible sources

Motivations (The Driving Force)

What Motivates the Sponsor

  • Ensuring decisions are the best possible
  • Increasing others’ commitment to decisions
  • Unleashing breakthrough thinking and creative problem solving
  • Fostering an environment where people are involved
  • Knowing people feel valued

What Motivates Empowered People

  • Helping shape the organization’s future
  • Helping produce breakthrough solutions
  • Increasing the likelihood that decisions made are the best possible

Actions (Behavioral Evidence)

How the Sponsor Acts

  • Explicitly states what his or her influence criteria are
  • Is direct about who is and is not empowered
  • Listens to and truly considers the ideas of others
  • Rewards those who are courageous and creative
  • Demonstrates permeability of his or her frame of reference
  • Explains rationale behind the decision to those who offered input
  • Uses consequence management to reinforce support of decisions

How Empowered People Act

  • Recognize situations in which input would be helpful
  • Prepare adequately before offering perspectives and suggestions
  • Communicate honestly, even when it challenges the decision makers’ views or desires
  • Show support for decisions, even when it was not what was advocated

Empowerment is a corporate term that is often misunderstood or misused. It is not synonymous with delegation. Instead, empowerment should be reserved to describe those situations where people are not granted authority to make decisions themselves, but are in a position to provide influential input to sponsors as they make change-related decisions. Although they are not easy to develop, empowered relationships are one of the most important aspects of orchestrating organizational change. As such, it is vital that we as change professionals help clarify what the term means and how it can be fostered with the people surrounding sponsors. Also, it is essential that we secure and maintain an empowered relationship with the sponsors we support.

Posted on: April 19, 2011 10:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

8 Steps to Building an Empowered Relationship

Categories: Empowerment

empowerment pic 5I’ve been talking in this series about building empowered relationships with your clients and between you and sponsors.  It is accomplished when you and your clients follow specific actions and meet multiple criteria. Here is a graphic that illustrates the usual order of the process: 

empowerment wheel-final

  • Steps 1 and 2: An atmosphere of mutual respect between an empowered person and a sponsor is created.
  • Step 3: The sponsor values the person’s input and acknowledges that the change will be implemented more successfully if they work together.
  • Step 4: As a result of this declaration, the person decides whether he or she is willing and able to assist the sponsor.
  • Steps 5 and 6: If the conclusion is yes, the person proceeds to prepare a case (Step 5) and presents it to a receptive sponsor (Step 6). This is a critical point in the process.
  • Step 7: The sponsor doesn’t justify his or her decision but explains the reasoning behind it.
  • Step 8: The person is either “devoted” to the decision (agrees with it) or, lacking full agreement, is “loyal” to the sponsor or organization and properly complies with and fully supports the decision. By successfully completing this step, both participants in the process are typically eager to re-engage the empowerment sequence whenever the need arises.
Posted on: April 12, 2011 04:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Roadblocks to Empowerment

Categories: Empowerment

You can gain many benefits when empowered relationships exist between you and your clients, and among key people within your clients. Yet, given how few empowered relationships exist during the execution of critical change, it is clear they’re not easy to develop. Here are some of the obstacles that can get in the way of empowerment:

  • The definition is often vague or confusing—Many people think empowerment means autonomy, delegation, democracy, consensus management, etc. People sometimes don’t understand what it is and how it is secured and maintained.
  • People think it gives them the power to act—Many people interpret empowerment as the entitlement to take whatever action they deem fit for a particular situation, instead of a charter to influence sponsors’ decisions.
  • Political correctness is in play—In some organizations, sponsors ask for others’ “empowered” observations and suggestions primarily to appease them; the input is seldom truly considered.
  • False egalitarianism is involved—Some organizations interpret the term empowerment to mean there is no longer a hierarchy and people should self-manage their own work. Though there have been some notable, successful exceptions, most people in these situations become disenchanted when they learn that self-management actually includes some degree of oversight by others higher in what is purported to be a flat organizational structure.
  • The concept is applied too broadly—Some organizations mistakenly interpret empowerment as something that can be acquired through leadership edict or a training course. (See my earlier post on earning empowerment.)

How do you know empowerment-related problems may be brewing? Stay alert for symptoms like the following:

  • Decisions are made in isolation
  • Decisions aren’t made effectively and/or are revisited after they are announced
  • Decisions are not supported and/or opting-out is prevalent
  • Sponsors don’t perceive much benefit when gathering input from others
  • It is not clear who is influencing the sponsors or why
  • Sponsors placate people by pretending to be interested in their input
  • People don’t feel their input is sought or valued
  • People tell sponsors what they think they want to hear
  • People talk around issues instead of surfacing them directly
  • People talk in “code” (use euphemisms instead of communicating explicitly)
  • People feel victimized by change instead of responsible for its realization

This last symptom of potential empowerment-related problems is worth a bit more exploration because victimization significantly inhibits establishing the kind of working environment where influence can thrive.

Empowered or Victimized—You Choose

Victimization is the antithesis of empowerment and people with this mindset don’t make good partners for sponsors. They tend to go underground with their concerns rather than discuss them openly and they withhold honest, explicit, or insightful feedback and suggestions. Even when the sponsor reaches out to them and asks for their ideas, they usually offer safe recommendations that are sure not to run against the sponsor’s predispositions.

It has become an art form to be a card-carrying victim while flying undetected under the radar. Here are some characteristics of a victim mentality:

  • Victims can’t see a way out of the negative situations they find themselves in, or they recognize that there is a solution but it requires a tough decision or action. They usually refuse to act because they view the options as too expensive. For example, an individual could confront another person he or she is having problems with, but might face anger or punishment as a result. Someone could risk offending or irritating another person at work, and take the chance of losing a key position or possibly even his or her job. People may not like these alternatives; nonetheless, they exist.
  • Victims spend a great deal of their time and energy complaining about who or what outside themselves controls their life. People with this mindset often dodge personal accountability in their private lives and their social interactions, but one of the most common forms of victimization occurs in the work setting. Victims typically feel used and abused, and may be prone to overtly or covertly retaliating against the organization.
  • Victims see little distinction between reasons and excuses.

-        A reason is the root cause or contributing factor behind a problem, but the person is still responsible for the outcome.

-        An excuse is a root cause or contributing factor behind a problem that releases the person from responsibility.

Victims tend to provide reasons when they don’t deliver on a promise, and then expect a “hall pass.” (“I couldn’t get it done because I overslept.”) People in empowered relationships may tell you the reason behind missing a deadline but they don’t assume it releases them from their responsibilities. (“I wasn’t paying attention and ran out of gas on the way to the airport. My apology for disrupting everyone’s schedule by missing the meeting. It won’t happen again.”)

  • We have all confronted unexpected, negative situations and felt helpless for a time. For the chronically unempowered, though, this sense of helplessness is not transitory; it is a long-term or even lifelong experience. Through either unawareness or denial, the unempowered come to believe (often unconsciously) that they are impotent regarding their future and always will be. Their self-image is that of a helpless individual, and their only alternative is to cling to the hope that someday they will get lucky. At a certain point, helplessness becomes self-fulfilling. Even when they succeed at influencing situations, they interpret it as luck or circumstance, and not due to specific actions they took in order to influence their own destiny.

As change practitioners, the challenge here is to face the victim that lurks beneath our own surface as well as be prepared to help those clients who are ready to move beyond the limitations imposed by their own victim mindsets. My experience is that only through true empathy can change practitioners connect to the fears and anxieties people experience as they move from being dominated by victim mentality to being liberated through empowered relationships.

Victims tend to deny/avoid what they don’t like, reject/attack what they can’t influence, protect/ fortify their existing positions, and retreat into covert action or withdraw altogether. Empowered people tend to acknowledge/surface what they don’t like, embrace/accommodate what they need to succeed in the new circumstances, open/expand their boundaries, and act in ways that move things forward.

Victims don’t make good partners for sponsors. They can even keep change projects from succeeding if sponsors don’t have enough empowered relationships around them to help navigate the ship. In our role as change professionals, it is crucial that we help our clients create and maintain empowered-centric lines of influence so the sponsors can make the best decisions possible during the implementation process.

Posted on: April 08, 2011 04:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Do You Have What It Takes to Be “Empowered”?

Categories: Empowerment

empowerment pic 3As practitioners, it’s vital for us to be empowered because, during major change, successful sponsors depend on people they trust to help influence their thinking. Sponsors rely on these individuals because their observations and opinions can result in rethinking—and possibly changing—the sponsors’ previous, current, or impending decisions for the better.

In my last post, I described how empowerment must be earned with the sponsor, and described four actions that help a person earn the sought-after status. In addition, there are specific characteristics displayed by people who have empowered relationships with sponsors:

  • They have achieved their status over time. Most people enter an organization with some degree of respect and influence, often driven by their resume, reputation, experience, formal education, etc. They may even exercise a level of influence from their first day of employment or on a consulting engagement. This will only occur, however, if their recommendations are consistent with the sponsor’s prevailing views (i.e., the ideas offered support, or are an extension of, what the sponsor already thought was the proper direction to pursue). It is virtually impossible for a newly hired person to successfully advocate for a radical shift in a sponsor’s perspective until he or she has demonstrated a trustworthy record for making beneficial recommendations.
  • They have the willingness to provide input to a decision maker and a relationship where that input is highly regarded. They cannot declare themselves influential with a sponsor who is not open to their perspectives. Empowerment doesn’t exist until a sponsor recognizes value in the individual’s frame of reference.
  • They know that their status is situational and dynamic. Empowered influence is not generic in nature. It occurs within the context of certain circumstances at certain times. A world-renowned cardiologist will likely be highly influential in decisions related to heart health, but likely not in areas in which he or she has no training or natural ability. In addition, if an empowered person provides a series of misinformation or poor recommendations, the person’s empowerment for that particular situation will likely decrease.
  • They recognize that the sponsor can value their ideas but not implement them. When this happens, it in no way “unempowers” the person; it simply means there were other considerations the sponsor needed to address when making his or her decision.
  • They realize that empowerment can apply down, up, or laterally in an organization. Managers may involve employees who have valuable contributions to certain decisions, or an employee may empower his or her peers, or a manager, to influence a decision he or she has been delegated to make.
  • They enjoy a balance of power with the sponsor. The influence of empowered people lies in the value their perspectives and knowledge hold for the sponsor. The greater the perceived value of the viewpoints brought forward, the more equitably the parties tend to relate to each other.
  • They don’t confuse influence with courage. When people express opinions that have not been solicited, they might be considered courageous (or stupid, given the circumstances), but not empowered.

These characteristics apply whether the empowered person influencing a sponsor is one of his or her direct reports or an internal or external change practitioner.

Next: Road blocks to empowerment

Posted on: April 05, 2011 03:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Empowerment Is Earned

Categories: Empowerment


In my last post, I described the difference between empowerment and delegation. Sponsors need the influence of empowered people in order to make the best decisions possibleempowerment  pic 2.

Empowered people don’t get that way through a corporate edict or by attending a training class. A person builds empowerment through establishing a record of providing useful perspectives and successful recommendations to a sponsor. When the decision maker realizes he or she will make better decisions by listening to and valuing the input offered by a particular person (or group), that person becomes empowered. Work environments can be established that attract people who are predisposed toward developing empowered relationships, and empowerment can be fostered and flourish, but it is not a quality that can be given to people simply because HR, OD, or anyone else determines that it is a good idea.

Whether internal personnel or external consultant, empowerment is earned through four actions:

  • Meeting influence criteria
  • Applying unflinching candor
  • Providing insightful input
  • Consistently supporting decisions

Meet the criteria for being influential.

We all have a secret list of things people must do to be influential with us. If someone meets all the stipulations, we stop and listen when he or she offers an opinion or a recommendation. I don’t mean we politely take their council to appease them. We truly try to absorb what they say because we’ve learned we’ll make better decisions if we do. Even when we’ve made up our minds, an empowered person’s view can make us reconsider our position. We don’t relinquish control over our decisions, but we believe it is in our best interest to include this person’s perspective as we consider our options.

Here’s the interesting part: This checklist is so secret, most of us don’t even know what it includes. We bury the content in our subconscious so deeply that, although it has a major bearing on who we pay attention to, most of us are unaware of its existence. All we consciously register is that one person’s suggestions bring us little benefit while another’s are highly valued.

These criteria are both undeclared and unexamined, so they are rarely given any scrutiny. Typically, the list causes us to gravitate toward people we like and/or who make suggestions/recommendations consistent with our biases and preferences. Of course, this creates an insulated environment that severely limits our options.

Most people who gain empowerment with a sponsor either naturally display the very characteristics on the secret list or, through observation, have determined what the items are and exhibit them when interacting with the sponsor. Either way, the sponsor begins to realize that input from this person is well worth the price of slowing down and deeply listening.

To accelerate the empowerment process, sponsors should determine what their influence criteria are and openly share it with those working to become empowered. I often ask sponsors to consider several questions to help them uncover their “secret list”:

  • Persona—What physical, intellectual, or emotional characteristics about people open you up to them or turn you off?
  • History—What circumstances, behaviors, or events in a person’s past opens you up to him or her or turns you off?
  • Observations—What do you see other people do or say that opens you up to them or turns you off?
  • Interactions—What is it about how a person communicates with you verbally and/or in writing that opens you up to him or her or turns you off?
  • Recommendations—Specific to what people do or say when making suggestions to you, what opens you up to them or turns you off?

Apply unflinching candor.

The empowered person communicates with impeccable honesty, explicitness, and directness when interacting with the sponsor. The sponsor learns that he or she will pull no punches when it comes to expressing opinions, making recommendations, or responding to requests for feedback. The empowered person is courageous and comprehensive when articulating a view so the sponsor can rest assured that nothing of substance is withheld.

Candid exchanges with the sponsor are a responsibility, not a privilege, and the empowered person feels duty-bound to fulfill that obligation. Being brutally frank is seen by both as an act of service to the sponsor, not a form of disrespect.

Provide insightful input.

Empowered people provide the sponsor with approaches, suggestions, and perspectives that help him or her make sound change-related decisions. To build and maintain an empowered status, recommendations need to result in progress toward change realization. For those who might be put off by the utilitarian nature of such a view, remember, this is not a relationship based on friendship or mutual likes or dislikes. Although a personal affinity might exist between an empowered person and a sponsor, when it comes to influencing key decisions, the sponsor calls on the empowered person for a valued opinion, not a friendly chat.

Consistently support the sponsor’s decisions.

Once the sponsor considers the empowered input and makes a decision, the person offering it must be unwavering in his or her support of the sponsor’s conclusion…regardless of whether the advice he or she offered is reflected in the final determination. In fact, if the empowered status is to be maintained, it is particularly important that the sponsor see full, unequivocal support for even the most unpopular decisions.

Opting out, in any manner, is patently unacceptable in an empowered relationship. The empowered person shouldn’t do anything (from overt rebellion to subtle innuendo) to indicate he or she is not dedicated to helping carry out the sponsor’s final decision.

How does this work if the person genuinely doesn’t agree with the decision? He or she either 1) accepts that the sponsor has access to information others don’t and trusts that the decision is in everyone’s best interest, or 2) tells the sponsor he or she can’t support the outcome and withdraws from the endeavor. This may or may not result in a permanent reduction of empowered access. However, the advisor will have at least honored the sponsor by admitting he or she was unable to support the decision. What is absolutely unacceptable is to in any way undermine a sponsor’s decision after he or she listened to and valued empowered advice but then followed a different path.

A Treasured Resource

Empowerment is earned, not given away or secured through a training program. It is the result of someone meeting the sponsor’s often undeclared criteria for gaining influence, being completely honest in all communications, providing valuable and useful input, and supporting the final decision regardless of whether he or she agrees with it. If this sounds like it is hard to accomplish, it’s because it is. An empowered relationship is a precious resource sponsors desperately need, but can’t always find. That’s why sponsors treasure them when they do exist and typically reward the person for being such a valued asset to the organization.

Next: Seven characteristics of an empowered person

Posted on: April 05, 2011 03:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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