Many organizations give lip service to improving employee engagement and empowerment. On the surface, this can appear like a concerned CEO wanting his or her employees to be happier in their jobs and career paths–and there’s no doubt that many senior managers are genuinely concerned about the welfare of their workforce.
However, the author of a recent Harvard Business Review article says that stronger employee empowerment is really a tool managers use to instill higher levels of productivity and accountability. He cites the example of a firm that revised some sales reporting procedures that the sales force found cumbersome and an impediment to their jobs.
The main takeaway from the exercise was that high performers did better without the excessive paperwork, but most of the team either showed no improvement or performed worse without having to prepare the detailed reports. The company’s customer service and marketing functions suffered as a result.
It also revealed to management that some members of the sales force were under-performers and probably in the wrong job. The author draws a contrast between “compliance” (i.e., the sales reports) as a tool of accountability for following the rules, and “empowerment” (i.e., employees having more choices) as a means of holding the workforce accountable for their own performance. Engagement, in other words, is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.