A century ago, Henry Ford told you he would sell you a car in any color you wanted, as long as it was black. And he told his assembly line workers exactly how to produce that car.But today at Google, customers in focus groups and beta tests are telling the company’s managers what they want products to do, and self-managed programming teams are figuring out how to make those products come to life.
A hundred years and a changing world have flipped business management on its head, shifting focus from managing people to managing their talent, growth and expectations.
Let’s take a look at how we got from there to here. And then let’s look at the connection between talent management and empowerment: changing what your managers do to release untapped talent, which in turn helps empower your employees—which in turn unleashes huge potential for your business.
The Long Road to Today
The debate over the appropriate roles of customer, manager and worker has been raging in the business world ever since Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced the term “scientific management” in the early 1900s.
According to Taylor, managers would study and define all work processes. Then workers would carefully and exactly follow those processes. (Customers weren’t even part of the equation.) This prescription was the basis for the assembly-line model of productivity that dominated the industrial revolution and still heavily influences workflow designs throughout the world.
But this model began to break apart after World War II, when management theorists like W. Edwards Deming taught the Japanese how to improve their productivity by asking customers what products should look like and asking workers how to produce those products. Managers became facilitators. When Japanese automobiles and electronics swamped their American competitors, American managers began to rethink what management was all about.
Since the late 1990s, this trend has been accelerating because of personal computers, the Internet, and social media. Individual entrepreneurs with a great idea have been able to revolutionize entire industries. (Think Apple, Amazon, Google.) The heart of the process has remained: ask customers what they want and pay employees to figure out the best ways to produce and deliver.
Under New Management
Empowering others in this way requires a new kind of management, relinquishing the Henry Ford–type of authoritarian control. The new manager must be…
… more of a mentor than a boss;
… more of a coach than a performance monitor;
… more of a facilitator than a dictator; and
… (especially with customers) a better listener.
Changing your management style does not happen overnight. Unhappy customers constantly tell stories about how hard it is to register their complaints with managers—and how quickly they switch to a competitor’s service instead of waiting for yours to improve. Talented young employees quickly abandon stifling work environments and find companies where their creativity and talents are utilized and appreciated.
If you’re going to empower employees to make the critical decisions that used to come from their old-school managers, you need to:
Find the right employees for the position and your company’s culture; know them before they come to work for you.
Hone their skills with coaching tailored to their needs, playing up their strengths and helping them recognize and mitigate their weaknesses.
Expand their knowledge base with relevant and timely development opportunities.
Train them to make critical decisions (note: training wheels may be needed!).
Retain them in your employment; everyone has different motivators—your job is to identify each employee’s motivators to improve productivity and job satisfaction.
In short, empowering employees depends on talent management. To step up to the plate in the changed world of business, we must leave behind the mindset of boss vs. worker. In its place, we need to admit our employees into what was once the rarified air of management—inviting them to create our great new successes in today’s business world.