The Empowerment Game

Empowering employees is one of the basic tenants of the quality initiative. Encouraging employees to make decisions-to use their initiative to solve customers problems-to think “outside the box” is very challenging to employees not accustomed to this process and may be perceived as dangerous to them as well. So, regardless of your desire to initiate total quality management into your business, many employees will revert to Reverse Delegation as often as possible. They will lay problems on your desk when you are away knowing full well that your personality as a decision maker will cause you to resolve the problem rather than return it to them. Or your employees ask you your opinion about a solution (without offering their own) assuming that following your recommendation of the solution of a problem will keep them out of harms way. After all, how can you blame them for pursuing a decision that you yourself made. Or, worse case scenario-the employees simply transfer customer calls to you that they could’ve answered themselves. Even if you would prefer to reverse the contact to the service person responsible for handling the problem, you do not want the customer to think that he is being shuttled from one person to another. You answered his problem. And the employee has won the game.

Yes, the game is already being played, but the owner of the agency is normally the pawn rather than the controlling influence. My recommendation is to reverse the direction of the game and force the employees to respond to you.

Buy a box of poker chips. Distribute twenty chips to each employee. Conduct a meeting with all of your employees during which you propose the following scenario:

During the next two months we are going to conduct an experiment. The experiment is one in creative decision making. Each time that an employee requires assistance from the owner or any manager to solve a problem or make a decision he or she must bring a poker chip with them. The poker chip is in payment for delegating the decision to another layer of management or the agency owner UNLESS the employee brings a range of options with them during the discussion and permits the owner to assist the employee in selecting one of the options that the employee has initiated. Any mail or telephone calls transferred to a manager or an owner for handling from an employee automatically results in the loss of a chip. At the end of the sixty day period, anyone with between five and ten chips remaining earns a free lunch on the boss anyone with ten to fifteen chips remaining is to be congratulated on their decision making abilities and should receive a dinner on the boss. Those employees who have more than fifteen chips remaining after sixty days should receive both congratulations and an extra day off those are your superstars.

Obviously, their are some caveats to this program. This program is made for your employees with customer contact and decision making activities. It should not be a punitive program your trying to give as much away to as many of your employees as possible because if they learn how to make decisions independently (or at least bring you alternatives when having a problem) they become more valuable to you.

Using a game like this to enhance empowerment in your agency is just one of many ways to subtly enhance the skills and value of your employees, leveraging them to the best affect for you and for your agency. Try this program out and let us know your results. If you have problems during the conduct of the program just call us and we’ll help you out.