I think it does. All words have meanings specific to each individual, so there is some fuzziness even before we add issues of social context and language. What issues we have with language are exacerbated when it is written. The problem lies especially in business communications which tend to be terse, having assumed context, and are one directional. The receiver has no input other than the words on the page – there’s no body language, or tone of voice, all of which contributes to about 70% of the communication.
Power words have more weight
So using power words like empower can have added difficulties. It should mean enable, but it seldom does. It is an expectation that the person empowering the other is giving them the necessary tools, resources and scope to do their best. But it is usually hierarchical. In most businesses of any size the structure of the business means that there is a concentration of power towards the top. Empowering someone thus becomes something which can be given, and rescinded at the whim of the manager or leader.
Enabling, however, is a way of giving someone all the resources needed to do their best. To quote John Wenger’s excellent Medium article on the topic “If some managers didn’t play the kind of power games that demotivated people, they could spend less time wondering how to increase motivation and engagement and more time with a gentle hand on the tiller, keeping an eye on the big picture, providing the means and opportunity for people to work well and letting people get on with what they hired them for.” According to Wenger enabling is “ emphasising capability development and a world view that, when fully able, people can put their abilities to good use”.
Hixsons are business enablers and that is a deliberate choice. We could say that we are business empowerers and that could make us seem more dynamic and help in our marketing but it’s not accurate. We believe in not making our clients dependent upon us: that would be a cynical view designed for a transactional environment which does not help mutual trust. Our clients should be independent so we enable them find and use the methods to do what they need to for themselves.
How can teams work better?
This works similarly for teams. Empowering your team means that you are giving them things which can be taken back, which commonly happens when times becomes difficult. Controls tend to go back upstairs and command and control becomes the norm again. If you use empowerment at the difficult times never believe when you relax controls again, that your people will trust you. Enabling them means that you are giving people the tools to act on their own. and I also believe that it is better for the organisation to have all the people working towards common goals even in difficult times as it is more likely that they, working together and trusting one another – and you, will be able to overcome the difficulties.
The Purpose of Management has to change
We come back to our changed definitions of managers, in The Death of the Manager, the Rise of the Enabler. This descibes a new way of working – machines will take over what was called knowledge work, and lead to judgement work: work that needs not just knowledge but human interaction and a personal element, bringing all the talents and abilities of the individial to bear. For that to happen, managers have to stop trying to maintain the staus quo (the traditional job of management) and enable their people to make decisions and exercise judgement. For that to happen leadership also has to change: more acting as gardeners, John Wenger’s gentle hand on the tiller, instead of the direct, top down command driven leaders of old. Leaders must become more servants of the team, who make judgements made every minute of every day on behalf of the organisation they all collectively serve. I firmly believe that for the future of business:
Judgement work is the new Knowledge work
Enabling is the new Management
Serving is the new Leadership
What culture do you want?
It’s a cultural issue. What sort of culture do you want, bearing in mind that you do not create culture; it is created by your words, actions, procedures, methods and language. Am I splitting hairs by having this discussion about empowerment or enabling? I don’t think so. They are fundamentally different. What kind of business leader are you? Do you empower or do you enable? How do you know which it is? How do you test your corporate culture so that you can refine, measure and garden the environment to ensure that you get what you want and what your team wants? Will your business succeed using the old ways based on command and control? Good luck if you think so. If you think a more inclusive and modern approach might be helpful, talk to us.
Putting our actions where our mouth is
And in case you are rightly asking that question of us – so is Hixsons doing all this? Here is what Sergei was asked: “I was inspired by Nick’s blogs about different angles and ways of thinking and after putting some of his techniques into practice I have seen a positive change in attitude and office culture. Do you work like this in your office?”. He said yes..