What history has taught us about employee empowerment

Lessons on human nature: the main thing history has taught us about employee empowerment

You know those companies where the work floor resembles a glass aquarium, and a manager paces the room keeping a close eye on their staff? It makes the average employee feel very patronized and nervous. If you want your staff to be happy and make independent decisions that benefit your organization, you should empower, trust, and support them. We’re not the first ones to say this. Plus, history backs us up.

A trip down memory lane and back to the present

Traditionally, people tend to fear the unknown. But that gets a lot worse when a supervisor constantly eyes their employees, checking their every move. But during the Industrial Revolution, when machinery was very new, this type of supervision was common practice. At some point, factory workers came up with a silent act of revolt that helped them relax a little: they quietly put a clog on the assembly line. The French word for clog is ‘sabot’ — hence the term ‘sabotage.’

And that’s human nature. If you make people feel like they are a cog in the machine, they’re inclined to sabotage the equipment. A look at the 1957 movie The Bridge on the River Kwai illustrates that point. A bridge was built to transport military resources, but in the end the effort was thwarted. The thing is, you shouldn’t try to control every action people take to contribute to the overarching goal. It will discourage them, and they’ll seek ways to vent their frustration.

Or, in some causes, they will simply demand justice. When people feel unhappy and unheard, they understandably seek ways to change the situation. Just look at Amazon, which didn’t involve its employees for a long time. Ultimately, a team of Amazon workers forced their employer to recognize a trade union in the U.S. for the first time.

How about today’s call center world?

Considering our species’ brain capacity has remained pretty much the same over time while everything else has changed, it’s no wonder call center agents respond to an oppressive management style in the same way. If you try to hold sway over them, they’ll create a little breathing room for themselves — for example, by setting their status to unavailable when they are available. You might call it sabotage, but it’s really just their way of trying to solve the problem you’ve created. All they require is your support and trust. If you empower them to make their own decisions based on actionable, real-time information, they’ll go to great lengths to contribute to the ultimate organizational goal!

Want to explore your information sharing strategy? Please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d be happy to perform a Quick Scan and discuss your Visual Management opportunities.

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