Role, empowerment and ability to make choices

Being able to empower your team to take accountability is great! What happens when the leader who has empowered their team members is no longer empowered, and is bound by constraints from multiple fronts?

Taking a scenario based approach to explain how this would pan out at work.

Of late the costs have been increasing on the grocery front at home (> $1000 per month), and so I decide to make an improvement and formalize managing groceries as a project and identify the problem maker (who has multiple requests for extra stuff) (Person A) to run with it. He is given a fixed budget of $300 for the month, with a good branding and lot of power to make decisions and choices. He is filled with pride as he has the power to choose what to eat for every single meal a day. He seeks help from Person B (outsourcing) to make a food chart to help plan and keep the costs low.

First month – The empowered team face a lot of issues in setting up operating processes and getting the buy-in of the rest of the team (those who help with driving and going shopping, those who cook the meals etc). It takes about 2 weeks to streamline the process. The next two weeks become much better! End of the month, everyone gets an appreciation dinner!

For the second month, discussion comes up about whether they will take up the same responsibilities or would they prefer to switch their roles (Job rotation). They choose to retain their roles and ask for funds. Now, my operating process is no longer $1000 per month, my baseline and processes have changed and we are operating at $300 with a very tight process. I am still looking to cut down costs and it cannot be squeezed beyond this without increasing their frustration levels. They discuss and try to convince me but I cannot approve the excess and ask them to manage it within the same amount or $20 less. The discussions go through for a week and I end up giving them 3 week budget plus bare minimum for 1st week. I get to save paying excess and have them re-prioritize their food requests.

End of second month, we run out of milk and coffee (essential for me, corporate front exec essentials) and they do not have funds left to ensure my basic needs are met. I cannot run / operate without coffee (reporting right numbers to the street) and they did not end up planning/sustaining funds for the same (Key ROI initiatives). I need to take back control to ensure we are able to plan better for next month.

Third month starts, I tell them they are empowered, but start looking into their plans, budgets, spend, grocery lists, frequency of shopping, vendor choices, etc etc. They spend extra time to ensure I get all the required bills, invoices and receipts and consolidate and share it in beautiful decks, analyzing it on multiple fronts. It takes time out of what they basically need to do (their standard schoolwork and extra project work), but they accommodate. On the corporate front, this would mean 14-18 hour work schedules and lot of reporting (call it layered reporting, multi-tiered reporting, analytics, fancy names…).

End of month three, I no longer need my “empowered team”, as I have a strong process to run with. Giving people choices seems to mean additional funds / additional discussions and negotiations, and the risk of not being able to get my coffee (essentials) at the end of the month. I do not need to empower, which means the layers I had created with leadership and branding / pride, are managers now reporting at a micro level back to me. While their friends and relatives look at them as empowered leaders, they realize they no longer have that power to choose freely anymore. They are bound by huge restrictions and processes (control mechanisms). For me to get any more value, I need a fresh team who would be ready to operate with a budget of $300 with a high amount of enthusiasm and can figure out a way to keep costs down. It is time for another round of the 3-month cycle, with a fresh team.

The scenario is easily understood with an example from home front, and anyone reading it will have multiple suggestions and advice to deal with it. Now, think about this scenario from an organization standpoint. I am the leader (Line leader to CEO, choose any role you deem fit), Person A is the High potential problem maker / leader who I am giving a portfolio to handle. Person B is partner (outsourced / internal) who needs to support in pulling this off. Grocery budget is the annual budget, and monthly reviews are the quarterly reviews. Now, how do you see yourself / your team handling the situation.

Share your experience in the comments below!

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