View from the CTO

Empowerment is far more important than strategy

16 Sep 2015 | Share

It all starts with an idea.

Whether you’re the CEO, a senior director or team manager, no doubt you have gone through the following thought process. You think of a new way to run the business, discuss it with a few colleagues, research it a little more and then sit down at your desk to write a strategy paper on it. Once you have finished the piece, you take great pride in the fact that you have come up with such a fantastic strategy, one that will no doubt make a great contribution to the future of the company. Also, you’re certain that whoever reads it will share your excitement. In fact, it’s just a matter of time before it’s put into action.

Okay, wake up – it was just a dream!

Unfortunately, reality then hits you and things look much different. Management seems to forget all too often what life is like for employees in their company. Colleagues already have enough to do and have little time to bother about new strategies, no matter how ground-breaking they may sound. They are far too busy trying to work on past strategies and ideas and bring them to life, or whatever is left of them. For the most part, ideas in strategies are made to fall in line with day-to-day operations; it seems that authors of forward-thinking ideas have far less experience than expert colleagues battling to keep on top of daily operations. That’s why it’s extremely challenging for managers to convince others why they should adopt a new way of doing things. Not only do they have to convince workers what the new strategy will deliver, but what it will mean for the daily workload of each employee.

And yet, we all believe that we’re great communicators and can convince anyone of our ideas. Surely, it’s just a case of standing up at company meetings and explaining the new strategy in great detail. Even via a few one-on-one conversations, if necessary. Surely, everything will be ok, right?

Eh, wake up, you’re starting to dream again!

OK, hand on heart, how many strategies have you come up with that have ended up in the wastepaper bin? Despite some great ideas, they have all ended up in smoke, and months later no-one can even remember them. And how many ideas were picked apart by colleagues, changed and manipulated so much that they no longer resembled the great idea you were so sure would make a fantastic difference?

But wait, there is hope! Empowerment.

There’s a really simple way to bring new ideas and strategies to life. Forget for a moment just how brilliant you may be and concentrate on something completely different. Your colleagues! Maybe you believe they’re too busy to start thinking about a new strategy, or maybe too inexperienced? Well, if you cannot get beyond this point, then you may just be stuck in the dilemma we have already discussed. But if you have the courage to take a step back and to give others more responsibility, then you may just get a nice surprise. Let me explain what I mean.

Identify one point in the new strategy that you would like to improve and have a think about it. Then comes an important bit: determine who is an expert in the area and capable of thinking strategically about it. It sounds easier than it actually is, but in order to evaluate things, you first have to know the members of your team very well, both in terms of competence and as people. The more you can assess things, the better. And then comes perhaps the most difficult bit: devolve the task of bringing the strategy to life. Easy, right? Well, no, let’s be honest, it’s not a simple thing to do. I am not talking about delegating a task, but rather about devolving complete power and responsibility for the task. About real empowerment. Give the person a real chance to take the strategy and idea and make them their own.

But what if the outcome isn’t good?

Perhaps you’re worried that what comes out at the end of the process could have been much better, that you should have done things your way. If so, please remember what I said at the start of this article – nothing is worse than a strategy that ends up in the wastepaper basket. And I make the claim that in most cases where you devolve responsibility the results will be much better than you had imagined. The reason is simple – the colleague you’ve handed things over to is an expert in the field, will work on the subject with a high degree of motivation. Moreover, they’re passionate about the topic and they’ll make sure the idea comes to fruition and is implemented in practice.

You’ll get a great surprise!

If you manage to implement a sense of real empowerment, you’ll be amazed at what happens in your business. Colleagues will be more motivated, strategies will be brought to life much more easily, and they’ll get much better support in the workplace. You’ll then be freed up to think about other areas in your business that need attention, and then you can set about empowering the next colleague. Perhaps you think your qualities today don’t make you look like a manager? Well, yes they do – that is the real art of management.

Mathias Golombek

Meet Mathias Golombek

Mathias Golombek has been a member of EXASOL’s executive board since November 2013.

In his role as CTO, he is responsible for all technical areas in the company, ranging from development, operations, technical support to professional consulting. Mathias began his professional career back in 2004 when he joined EXASOL as a software developer and led the database optimization team, before managing the R&D department in 2006.

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