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Blog : Empowering people through freedom

Blog

Empowering people through freedom


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By Jon Reed, Operations Director at Purple Cubed

Before joining Purple Cubed I worked for a FTSE 100 company with some 30,000 employees. The business had lots going for it. It was a good place to be with strong brands, successful results and talented people. However, what I felt missing was the freedom for people to be entrepreneurial and make their own decisions.

The word empowerment was used profusely and leaders were encouraged to empower their teams. However there was clear command, control and a set of brand standards and guidelines detailing the recommended response to each and every scenario. Realms of paper designed to reduce risk and policies there to police other policies. That in itself was dis-engaging for me and the culture was very much defined in a booklet, rather than a living and breathing way of doing things.

And I understand why. In a world where ‘brand is everything’ those standards and guidelines had to be there to protect the brand. So can a large business be a truly empowering workplace? The answer is YES - If the culture is open and if people are given freedom (in a framework).

If you think about the word ‘empowerment’, what does it mean? Doug Kirkpatrick, from the Morning Star Company a business that famously has no managers, yet grew to become the world’s largest tomato processor says “Empowerment implies that one person with power, is lending their power to a subordinate who has less power. And what is loaned can be repossessed”. An artificial lending of power is not really what I would admire in an organisation.

Outside of work people buy houses, make big life decisions, bring children into the world and they do these things without managers overseeing them. Yet when people come to work most businesses feel the need to process and manage them. Maybe if we all recruited the right people who believed in what the organisation was doing, we wouldn’t need leaders at all?

In most businesses, teams generally look for cues from their leaders who often set the tone for work. But ask yourself - do the leaders in your business spend most of their time policing how people work or do they give people the space and freedom to deliver outputs in a way that best works for the individual?  In my view, the biggest role leaders have is to give their people the platform to excel. This freedom is easier to offer when things are going well. However, in periods of change or when times are tough it often feels safer to batten down the hatches and revert to a top down approach as opposed to providing freedom and trusting in the team.

A business that really promotes freedom is one that coaches, has great communication, recruits well (to its values), trusting its leaders and people to make the right decisions (within a framework). It’s also one where people are afforded the opportunity to learn from mistakes without retribution. Funnily enough those sorts of businesses are also the ones who foster great employee engagement and often report sustained growth and performance. Is your business one of these?

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