Top 10 Tactics for Managing in an Empowered Environment

kurtisBy Kurtis McBride
CEO, Miovision

Published: July 27, 2015

When I talk about our empowered culture at Miovision, people – particularly potential hires – tend to ask essentially one question: How does one “manage” in a culture in which everyone is bright, talented, and encouraged to contribute equally?

It can be a challenge, especially during times such as these; times of rapid growth and exciting innovation.  If a manager empowers a team too much, it feels like abdication. If he or she empowers a team too little, it feels like micromanagement.

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We’ve developed ten tactics to help our leaders better understand their roles and find the right balance. I shared this document with the team, but it is also summarized here:

1. Define the Purpose

Your most important role as a leader in an empowered culture is to define and continually promote Purpose. Purpose can be defined for a specific project or for the company as a whole. Without Purpose, no team can be expected to execute in any way, including an empowered way. Talk it up. Talk it up, all the time.

2. Live the Values

Your second most import role as a leader in an empowered culture is to live the Values of the company at all times. At Miovision, we have two sets of Values: Core Values and Product Values. We apply these Values dogmatically; there are no exceptions when it comes to our Values, period. One of the more critical parts of a leader’s job is the interpretation and application of the Values to everyday decisions.

3. Use Emergent Planning

In an empowered company, staff stakeholder buy-in is vital. Employees have to be on board with your goals and actions. At Miovision, we use Emergent Planning. It requires three tools that can be found in any office: sticky note pads, pens and a whiteboard. It’s a simple process:

  1. Pick a topic that you are trying to set goals for
  2. Determine the stakeholders who need to be part of setting the goal for it to succeed
  3. Have stakeholders come to a meeting with specific actions they believe are part of the goal
  4. Have everyone independently write down the specific actions – one per sticky note
  5. Take turns sticking the notes on the whiteboard, grouping them with similar sticky notes as you go
  6. Collaboratively devise common phrasing for each group of actions that stakeholders agree to.

At this end of this process, you will have developed a goal that all stakeholders are aligned with.

4. Use the 3-Decisions Rule

In a truly empowered environment, differences in opinion can lead to deadlocks. Enter the 3-Decisions Rule. As its name would suggest, this tactic allows each leader to break with Empowerment and unblock deadlocks three times a year. The 3-Decisions Rule achieves three things:

  1. It sends a message that while leaders can disempower on occasion, it is a scarce commodity that they reserve for only the most critical of situations.
  2. It creates a space in an empowered culture where teams know that if a leader uses as decision, he must have a good reason, because he just used 1/3 of his annual capacity.
  3. More often than not, it creates a culture where teams work hard to build consensus so their leaders do not have to use one of their three decisions.

5. Drop Breadcrumbs

In a fast-growth environment, a company must embrace constant change – and as we all know, companies and individuals tend to be change-resistant. In a traditional hierarchical business, a leader can “force” change into the organization. In an empowered organization, though, we must build constituencies to create change. One way for leaders to do this is to “drop breadcrumbs.

A leader seeds the benefit of the change with the stakeholders who would benefit from it and encourages the stakeholders to share the seeded idea with individuals who need to change their process or behaviour. Over a short period of time, several stakeholders will approach the individual, each with their positive perspective on the required change. This will often result in the individual coming to a conclusion that the change being advocated is not only required but also in their own and the company’s best interest.

6. Create a Vortex

Sometimes breadcrumbs take too long and a high-growth company needs to ramp up to maximum velocity. On rare occasion, a leader may need to create a “vortex.” Danger: it’s disruptive and can lead to feelings of short-term disempowerment, so should only last a week or two. An example of a vortex might be the creation of a small, focused team with an intense meeting schedule. The goal of the vortex is to create a new normal (new process, new team, new culture, new project, etc.) in a compressed timeframe.

7. Be a Woodpecker

Like the Vortex, being a woodpecker should not be overused. Being a woodpecker can be combined with other tactics or used on its own. Being a woodpecker means that at regular and deliberate intervals, perhaps every morning, you check in on the status of a project, priority or task. It’s repetitive and you can feel like you’re being annoying, but it demonstrates to everyone the importance of what you’re asking about.

8. Use Tribal Accountability

The most effective way we have found to drive accountability in an empowered organization is to use the power of “tribal accountability.” Here, a leader does not drive accountability using traditional top-down tactics. Here, we use daily stand-up meetings, open team presentations of progress, and weekly/monthly company meeting formats. These meetings create public discussion and commitments, break down silos, and distribute accountability through a team.

9. Organizational Structure = Intersection of Passion, Skill, Need, Values

Our organizational structure is optimal when each individual is working on something that he or she is passionate about and uniquely skilled at. Leaders here must be able to answer which of the five states below each of the team members is in:

  1. Someone fits the values, is working on something he is good at, that the company needs, that he/she is passionate about it.
  2. Someone fits the values, is working on something he is good at, that the company needs, but he/she is not passionate about it.
  3. Someone fits the values, is working on something he is passionate about, that he/she is not good at, or that the company does not need.
  4. No one is working on something that the company needs because no one is passionate about it or good at it.
  5. Someone does not fit the values.

Number 1 is the ideal state for an individual in an empowered culture. Numbers 2 and 3 should result in the leader and the individual working together to get to Number 1. Number 4 should trigger a new hire to be added to the team. Number 5 should result in coaching from the leader and/or a transition for the individual.

10. It’s Better to Multiply than Divide

The key enabler of growth for an empowered organization is the capacity of leadership to increase its own capacity. Culture is the culmination of values, purpose and the daily experiences created through the nine tactics above. The role of leaders at Miovision is not only to use the tactics, but also to teach the tactics to emerging and newly hired leaders.

And that’s the key thing: If you work for Miovision, we’ll show you how to put the “power” in “empowerment.” We are committed to it.

Interested in seeing how Miovision is applying these rules?

We’re wide open about these things, so feel free to check out the doc we sent around to management.