Q: We have recently had a staff away-day. One of the conclusions was that we needed to "empower our staff". How do we do this?
A: I was delighted to see recently that the National Institute for the Japanese Language has decreed that the word 'empowerment' should be banned from use in all official documents. I think 'empowerment' is a word that should only be used in private between consenting HR professionals.
I would have loved to have been at your staff discussion so that I could have found out whatever it was people thought should be happening that is not. Words like 'empowerment' can be used as an excuse for avoiding rigorous thought and sometimes they are just excuses for poor performance.
However, let me try to get at the issue and how you might tackle it.
This comes back to a constant theme in answers I have given in this column - organisational culture. The third sector has thrived on an entrepreneurial spirit where we encourage innovation and new ways of thinking. We can be proud that many of the innovations in service delivery, campaigning and client involvement and customer care come from our sector.
The reality is that such innovation and ideas can't all come from the top. Good ideas will come from all parts of the organisation, and indeed from external sources, volunteers, other stakeholders and, dare I say it, even trustees. But while the ideas themselves may not emerge at the top, the leadership style you adopt needs to ensure a culture that encourages innovation.
There are three aspects to this: effective communication strategies, decision making and delegation, and networking.
You need to have a communications strategy that establishes a forum for encouraging views from staff and volunteers. These can range from bulletin boards and informal networks to suggestion boxes and formal consultative structures. And you need to encourage ideas from all your stakeholders.
If people feel they have decision-making power or can make an effective contribution to decisions, this will encourage new ideas and innovation.
Stamping on people who come up with stupid ideas or make mistakes may have the opposite effect. How you handle such situations is a real art!
And finally, ensure that the organisation is networking. The organisations that innovate are those that are well connected. Third-sector bodies need to be extrovert and agile. We often are, but are you?
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