UK Managing Directors who have experienced the effects of growth through empowerment give their thoughts, and we also include some fascinating supporting research on the topic.
We talked with eight very different UK businesses, from creative agencies to project-based consultancies. They do have a few things in common:
They told of us of several different aspects of empowerment that they experienced:
Teams may be working hard and producing great work, but a business can still be losing money.
There can be many possible reasons for this, a number of which are directly addressed by Synergist. One is the need for team members to have commercial awareness.
The evidence is that if you give people the right tools it can be transformative on them and the business culture. They realise, probably for the first time, the impact of their efforts and the contribution they’re making to the company's success and growth.
Once someone grasps that they are personally responsible for a piece of the success of the business itself, rather than merely working on a project, their mindset usually changes fast. Transparency of information gives them a better understanding of every element that goes into a job. It can be quite an eye-opener. It also means they can often help steer clients in directions that are productive for both business and client.
|Nigel Wilson, MD, Clevercherry||“It’s educating the team. They make better decisions now. It promotes self-education. Team members are much more aware now of what costs go into a job.”|
|MD, creative agency||“It empowers people. Everything is more transparent. It helps everyone to see how they can be more effective and more profitable from then on, and give better client service at the same time.”|
|Director, creative and branding agency||“It shows people much more clearly the effect of their actions. As a result, it’s changed the way they work. They’re working more streamlined now. They’re more cost-effective, and do things in less time, which is better for the client.”|
|MD, Environmental Consultants||"You need to make commercial culture a key part of your DNA. A core competitive difference rather than a mere afterthought.”|
Your people are undoubtedly smart. But how can they always make smart decisions if they’re not well informed? It’s hard to navigate in the dark, no matter how hard working you are.
And what about the speed of those decisions? To be able to increase both quality and speed of decisions at the same time is pretty much the holy grail of team empowerment.
|Mark Beaumont, Founder, Dinosaur||“Synergist is not just a great tool that empowers the board and senior management, in allowing them to keep a close watch on profitability, efficiency and plan the agency. It's also a superb development tool for the account managers. They can be in complete control of their budgets and the costs coming in from the studio, and react and adapt in real time."|
|MD, creative agency||“Getting Synergist gave us a surprise benefit: it shows us new ways to look at our data, uncovering trends, patterns and opportunities we had no visibility of before.”|
|MD, environmental consultancy||“We used to get data only after the event and so at our March board meeting for example we would still be discussing our January figures. That’s not sustainable.”|
|MD, environmental consultancy||“Synergist helps us to make huge decisions that we couldn’t do before. For example, we made a structural change as a direct result of the data provided by Synergist.”|
|Steve Revell, Founding Director, Maleon||“Synergist helps us decide which work to take on. It gives us the data that makes such decisions easier.”|
|Steve Revell, Maleon||“We wanted software to help us run our business more smoothly, help steer decisions, manage margins, and pull everything together. Synergist does that.”|
|Steve Revell, Maleon||“The best thing? It’s live data that drives the decisions that we make every day. Everything is at your fingertips. A client phones you and – two clicks – you have it all in front of you.”|
It’s one thing for an MD to make decisions based on gut instinct. But it’s another to expect the entire team to be doing it.
It’s partly a question of confidence, and partly one of lack of experience. Is it even fair to ask people to make decision after decision based on pure hunches?
Hunches are often right, of course. But not always. It’s scary to base growth-based business decisions entirely on sixth sense and raw luck. So the value of having the data to back up your judgement is immense.
|Nigel Wilson, MD, CleverChery||"We no longer have to rely on gut instinct alone. It's there in black and white"|
Where are the information bottlenecks in your business?
Are you one?
It’s no fun being the bottleneck. You hold up peoples’ work, which frustrates you and them. You’re a blockage in their path, and you’re constantly being interrupted with demands for answers. No fun at all.
No one person can micro-manage all the decisions in a growing business. It’s not scalable. As the Operations Director of a 55-strong agency once told us: “Nobody wants to be an information bottleneck, but before Synergist it was inevitable that I was often in that unfortunate position. Not any more. Today, everybody sees the same data in real time.”
|Nigel Wilson, MD, CleverCherry||“Synergist has helped us be more scalable. People are more empowered now. Decisions that used to drop relentlessly into my lap are now taking place with no fuss. That’s a payoff that keeps on paying...”|
|MD, creative agency||“We used to spend masses of time searching for information or pulling together reports or estimating work or doing invoices. Such a waste. Now, that’s all cleaned up. It leaves more time for client focus. An agency bogged down in internal process-noodling can never be authentic because it’s oriented inwards rather than outwards.”|
|MD, environmental consultancy||“A lot of a consultant’s time can be taken up with routine administrative tasks. Synergist removes a great deal of this from them, enabling the teams to focus more of their time on their clients and projects.”|
|MD, environmental consultancy||“I now know how we’re doing without having to phone around the offices and pull it all together. And of course our key people are not always in the office anyway.”|
|Steve Revell, Maleon||“Synergist helps our engineers focus on what they do best. We now achieve very high utilisation rates – over 90%. The admin is removed from their day. We give them great support: they work hard, they’re well qualified, we want to keep them. The system helps them concentrate on the essentials, which is what they want.”|
People who work more effectively get promoted. Of course they do. They’re more valuable, more responsible, more capable. They see the big picture and you can rely on them to deliver results. One key factor is that they understand how profitability works.
Something we hear again and again from MDs is how gratifying it is to watch individual team members grow in confidence and stature. How much better that feels than having to constantly recruit from outside.
So everybody wins when careers open up and people feel the buzz of opportunities happening. Information can be the catalyst for all this. Having crucial data at your fingertips about clients and jobs, past and present, is a bit like being able to pack tons of experience into a short time. It's a career accelerator.
|MD, creative agency||“Synergist is the phenomenon that touches every person in the agency, so it can join everything up, pull people together. It increases people’s awareness of how everything works. It’s a tool that can help rally people to a purpose and help them understand things that seemed impenetrable or irrelevant to them before.”|
|Mark Beaumont, Founder, Dinosaur||“It also makes appraisals clearer for the employee as much as the employer. Synergist allows effective and visible measurement of their work, their effectiveness financially. All of which can boost their career progress.”|
|Nigel Wilson, MD, CleverCherry||“You've got to think fast today. An account manager asks you about some costings. With the history of previous jobs in front of you, you can say ‘Here’s what happened before.’ It makes decision-making easier and more transparent.”|
|MD, environmental consultancy||“There’s a shortage of commercially aware consultants out there to hire, so you have to develop them. Synergist helps: It gives our teams a wider perspective, shows them the commercial implications of their decisions, and helps them prioritise and make the right decisions.”|
|MD, environmental consultancy||“You have to encourage people to progress. When consultants become managers they sometimes don’t like to let go and delegate. They’re specialists, not instinctive business managers. That’s a constraint on growth. Synergist helps: The manager can delegate and see that everything’s reassuringly under control, and it helps them see their area as a business, making their priorities and decisions clearer.”|
|Steve Revell, Maleon||“Our engineers get better and better educated about the big picture and how everything fits together, plus the financial implications of their decisions. It’s raised their game.”|
The Academy of Management published a scholarly 62-page research paper in 2012 with the snappy title of Examining the Differential Longitudinal Performance of Directive versus Empowering Leadership in Teams, by Lorinkova, Pearsall and Sims.
OK, you’re forgiven for not having made it your bedtime reading so far. Actually it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds, because it looks at the two rival leadership styles, Empowerment and Direction, and sees which is the most effective.
To summarise: Results from 60 teams suggest that teams led by a directive leader initially outperform those led by an empowering leader. However, despite lower early performance, teams led by an empowering leader experience higher performance improvement over time because of higher levels of team learning, coordination, empowerment, and mental model development.
In Army of Entrepreneurs, the author talks of her experience running and growing a PR consultancy. A big topic is entrepreneurial burnout. Research analysed 26 entrepreneurial companies and found that overwhelmed owner-managers often led to stalled growth.
In the early years, these individuals invest Herculean amounts of time and effort into making the business a success. “But that level of energy is tough to sustain”, she notes. Sounds familiar? Later, “the company frequently experiences a rapid, sometimes tragic, power failure.” Whereas an empowered team reduces this risk enormously. It’s a safer, smarter option.
Prosek also quotes Malcolm Gladwell on what he calls the Talent Myth. The myth is that people make organisations smart. “More often than not, it’s the other way round”, he says. Give your people the tools and the context they need, create a smart organisation, and people will rise to the challenge.
What tools and context are needed? At Synergist we enable you to deliver online information to your teams, and the difference can be remarkable. “The Army of Entrepreneurs is a wired operation”, says Prosek. Today workers are culturally attuned to having information at their fingertips. By empowering them, it can help change the culture of an organisation to become more commercially-minded.
“We require a great deal of speed and flexibility from our troops, and there’s little chance that could happen without the aid of technology.” Each person develops an owner’s mindset for their area.