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Rewind to some decades ago and think of the corporate landscape that existed. Our definition of a great leader or people manager was the one who commanded respect and controlled the team. Along with that, we believed that a good talent approach was to monitor and track employees as closely as possible.
In the past few years, the power equation has been changing steadily. Information access, work options, path breaking growth and blending boundaries have ensured that employees now have more control over their work and choices. They know their strengths and are not afraid to explore opportunities based on that. They want to be empowered so that they can use their own thought process for solutions or leverage their own skills to get results for the organization.
That is our world today and it is important for HR to understand that when employees are empowered, not only do they feel motivated, but also more confident because they have the space to make choices.
HR is accountable for the people. HR is also responsible for business impact and must . make sure that the people to business linkages are strong. Yes, HR has many roles to play when it comes to the current complex corporate landscape.
Even so, we are missing the biggest role that HR needs to play - empowering employees and shifting the onus onto them. Every individual wants to be in control of factors that matter to them at work, ranging from work profile to rewards or pay. This is driven through a shift in mindset as well as organizational culture.
Imagine a situation where no one wants to think of the company's growth as their own job. That can be a very demotivating culture to be a part of. It might result in individuals passing the blame onto each other for everything that goes wrong, and taking the credit wrongfully for all that is right. On the other hand, a culture which makes employees connect to the business goals and the key role they play can help them to take charge. That is what leads to a culture where managers are ready to delegate power and employees have the courage to take it up, without the fear of being reprimanded for every mistake that happens.
How then can you, as an HR professional or leader, enable that to happen?
Here are some ways to make that work.
1. Alignment of employee and organization's goals - Employees want to take accountability for elements that they aspire for. That is a huge motivator. Through career conversations and mentoring discussions, HR has to make sure that these elements are aligned to the organization's goals as well. Spend time with employees and their managers to mentor them on how their aspirations can work within the framework of the organization's growth. That is what will propel them to work directly towards results. This element starts with trust!
2. Involvement in strategic goal planning - The more collaborative your strategic goal planning and setting process is, the better the chances of employees taking accountability. So involving them in the process is a great idea. Ensure that their inputs are taken and ideas are heard, and explain the logic for exclusion when appropriate. Involvement is the key to making employees feel connected to the work and results. It might sometimes seem difficult to take so many opinions on what the goals should be. As a leader, it is not essential to include each idea or opinion. It is simply essential to listen to them and think each one through.
3. Use of technology to make employees self-reliant – Your employees should have the option to fill out their own skill gaps, self-assessments and action steps . They should have the technology that lets them work on learning skills or knowledge that the business needs. They require the right technical support to provide feedback to each other. Let employees choose how they want to learn. Give them space to decide what pace they want to learn at, provided it does not hamper their deliverables and client commitments. With the onset of technology, organizations have also become flatter and decision making has become decentralized. Technology has ensured that power does not lie in the hands of a few leaders at the top, but throughout the talent pipeline at all levels.
4. Use of effective delegation - If you want someone to be accountable or take the onus, you need to release your own control and hand over the power. HR plays a crucial role in mentoring managers on how they should be delegating more and micromanaging less. That is the fastest and most effective route to empower employees and make them responsible for the targets set for the company, as well as for them. There is nothing bigger than showing your employee(s) that you trust them with some significant responsibilities. You may choose to keep a close watch if the job that is delegated is very important or has far-reaching consequences. But overall the employee must be given space to take that leap of decision making and hande the challenges.
5. Creation of an environment of autonomy - Encourage your team to think of ways to arrive at their own solutions and resolve the conflicts that arise. As a manager or as the HR team, you need to be aware of the issues, whether those are internal or client related. But giving them action steps or the exact solution does not let them spend time developing the solution. As a result, they lack ownership. So encourage discussions and even debates about what needs to be done, but within the limits of business requirements and company policies, which allows a culture of autonomous decision making to be present.
6. Communication about accountability - For employees to know that they are accountable, the right kind of communication is important. As an organization, the messages you share verbally and non-verbally should point towards motivating them to be proactive and take charge. Reviewing their work goals, keeping them informed about how they can increase their own rewards and recognition by better performance and giving them constructive feedback is your role as the HR department. Sensitizing and training the managers to do that as well is important. Tell the employees about how the performance for pay is a key principle in the organization. Communicate about or showcase role models who have shown accountability to resolve issues or work on business goals by taking initiative. These are a few ways to make sure that being personally accountable becomes part of the organization's culture. As peers start communicating and guiding each other on performance, the conflicts between teams will become easier to solve. With lesser time being spent on conflict resolution, productivity will improve.
7. Recognition of Proactive Behavior - When an employee shows the courage to take charge, make sure to acknowledge it. When you recognize or appreciate such behavior, it reiterates the fact that you, as an organization, are ready for this power shift. Not only are you ready, you are keen to reinforce such behavior that leads to a sense of ownership for how the organization performs. This also needs to come from the leadership team and not just the HR function for it to be seen as a significant gesture.
8. Progressive Practices - Having forward-focused practices that are progressive is an important aspect of the power shift. If you want employees to take ownership, you have to facilitate that shift through the right kind of initiatives. For example, give them the choice of what they want as allowances by providing a flexible allowance component. Or give them the choice of how they want to learn a certain skill that has been identified as an area of development for them. Or let them find their own style of mentoring a new or young team member through an informal buddy program. There are many ways to do this. So explore what works for your organization and create the right platforms or provisions for them to take off.
When organizations follow the above guidelines, they start moving towards making the power shift in a seamless manner. Having transparent conversations about expectations, measurement of how they perform the work delegated and not just designated to them, and easy access to information are some factors that will determine whether the shift can happen smoothly. More importantly, they will help to be aware of how the impact shows directly in the business results and company performance. If everyone works with a sense of belonging and feels empowered to take that extra step without hesitation, chances are that the organization will reach its next level of growth faster than planned.
This shift changes the way organizations operate for the better. However, we must be cautious when we drive this because just as with everything, it should be carried out in moderation. It is a great trend but the shifting of power should be done in a balanced manner in context with eacxh organization's situation.
About the author: Dedeepya Ajith John works as Associate Director – Knowledge & Advisory at SHRM India.
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