Creating a culture of empowerment

Bruno Guicardi of CI&T explains how office workers can be empowered with customised technology.

The huge shift towards working from home in 2020 meant businesses suddenly had to place much more trust in their employees to get the job done.

The sense of control that office-based working brings had suddenly disappeared overnight as employees sat in their home offices, bedrooms or at their kitchen tables and got on with business as usual. Fears of huge drops in productivity proved unfounded, with many organisations reporting a positive impact on their people.

What this illustrates is the benefit of employee empowerment and autonomy – giving them the opportunity to take matters into their own hands doesn’t lead to disaster!

Whilst we may return to a degree of normality in the coming months, no one can expect the world of work to be the same again. Many will use the opportunity to more evenly split their work between the office and the home.

If there is one lesson that businesses must learn from 2021 it is that people can be trusted to get the job done. And this attitude must translate back into the culture and approach for the future. We’ve got a real opportunity to make widespread change in terms of how we manage, motivate, and measure people. So, how do we empower our people?

Don’t move the goal, change the pitch

Since the beginning of business as we know it, leaders and managers have been setting goals for their employees – sales targets, lead gen goals, conversion numbers, outputs – and then they have created a check box list of how to get there. This enables employees to work through the pre-designed list and, in theory, work towards their goals. But if this year has taught us anything, it’s that not everything works out the way you planned and 1 plus 1 does not always equal 2.

Forcing people to work within strict guidelines and to meet arbitrary performance measures through specific actions not only kills their creativity and passion, but it can actively damage the end results. Instead, leadership needs to restructure its organisational models so that the focus is on outcomes, rather than output.

Assigning employees targets and giving them the freedom to choose how they get there, encourages them to find new and inventive methods to achieve their goals. Giving people this power, autonomy and ownership can have a huge impact on morale. It will inspire new ways of thinking and possibly lead to new discoveries and greater productivity. Creating incentive structures that reward ingenuity and outcomes will only improve this system further, encouraging hesitant employees to actively think about what they could do to improve themselves and help their team.

Autonomy with guardrails

Empowerment is how you stay alive as a company. It is how you embrace what is next and continue to evolve. It can connect employees to the higher purpose of the organisation and can truly be the intersection of what is good for the employee and good for the business.

Autonomy entails risk. Letting employees do whatever they want does not guarantee that they will achieve their goal more efficiently, or for that matter reach it at all. This is often what causes managers to over-control the situation, fearing that they will be the ones held responsible for any shortcomings.

However, this is often a fear of the unknown instead of a fear derived from experience. For managers and leaders, handing over the reins to empowered employees can be scary. It can make them feel redundant and out of control. But there is still a vital role for leaders to play. They create the guardrails, they place the North Star and point everyone in that direction. In other words, they define the goal but not necessarily the means of getting there. If you have hired the right people and trained them well, this can actually be an amazing evolution to watch.

The best tools for the job

Now, this is where the technology comes in. An empowered employee needs the tools to make ideas happen. Throwing non-user-friendly technology at teams and expecting anything different than the status quo is foolish. I would caveat the old phrase of ‘employees being an organisation’s biggest asset’ to ‘an organisation’s biggest asset being well-equipped employees’.

What we really need to do is start investing in our employees the way we invest in our customers. We meticulously track every point of a customer journey, ensuring things are easy and instantaneous. We don’t want them to run into roadblocks or be stuck trying to navigate legacy technology. While one school of thought says customers deserve attention because they’re the ones bringing money into a business, it could be argued that without employees, there would be no business to bring money into.

So, we need to start paying more attention to our people – building solutions that are fit for purpose, not just out of the box and hoping they work. We need to listen to employee needs, understand how their day works, and find ways to fix any issues they are having. You can push all the shiny new technology you want at employees, but it won’t make a difference if your people don’t have any power.

Whatever the future of work looks like, employee empowerment must be top of the agenda. Although it will be difficult for many to make this leap of faith, those that adapt their approach to empower their people will be set up to reap the rewards in a new era of work.


Bruno Guicardi is the President of CI&T, a digital transformation partner for the world’s biggest companies. He co-founded CI&T in 1995 and has since led the company through continuous waves of innovation and growth — currently a staff of over 2,800 across strategic global operations in Latin America, North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific region.

Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

© Business Reporter 2020