Scott Smyth, Soben Founder and Group CEO, shares his thoughts on empowering people and what the benefits of this approach can bring to the workplace…
One of the unhappiest periods of my career was working in an organisation where I was micro-managed. I had no freedom to decide how I did things and no opportunity to contribute ideas to the business. Anybody who has worked in that situation will know that it stifles innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit.
So, when I set up Soben, my goal was to create the opposite environment to that – a culture where people are empowered and creative. My mantra is ‘proceed until apprehended. We give people early support, a structure to work within – the Soben System – and then give them free rein to get on with things.
What is the point of spending time and money seeking and recruiting the best people, only to tell them what to do? If a business is looking for people who will bring new ideas and perspectives, it has to ensure that there is a culture where this type of person will flourish – rather than wither. If people are empowered to take decisions for themselves, there will be benefits for the projects they are working on.
Unwieldy governance structures slow things down, where every decision must be passed up the line to be scrutinised and approved. With input from people who understand the details and nuances of the project, agile decision-making has the opposite effect. This approach also encourages people to come forward with new ideas and suggestions for improvements at both a project and business level.
If this sounds like a free-for-all, it is not. Empowering people does not mean leaving them to work unchecked. Just as data is at the heart of the work, Soben does for its clients; data is the key to determining whether people are on the right track, where they could improve and what could help them to improve. At Soben, we use a range of key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor our people’s performance and help tailor their personal development, mentoring and training.
As a senior manager in such an environment, it is essential to understand that things will inevitably go wrong when people make mistakes or take the wrong decisions. My advice would be never to lambast people who have made a mistake. Instead, try to approach the situation with a coaching mentality; talk through the decision with them, look at alternatives and reflect on the lessons that have been learned.
Of course, this approach can only work if a company has recruited the right people in the first place. Someone can appear to have the right experience, skills and credentials, but once they are in the workplace, it becomes apparent that they do not fit. Playing politics in the workforce destroys productivity; if someone has been ‘programmed’ within a large organisation where workplace politics is the norm, they may never be able to adapt to an open working culture.
It is always helpful to check that you have created the culture you intended – and that people are happy. At Soben, we do this using a quarterly staff survey, using an Employer Net Promoter Score (eNPS) to measure employee satisfaction.
People feel valued and in control and are likely to be happier. This is important from a moral and a commercial perspective. Researchers have proved that happy people are more productive. From my experience, personally and as the founder of Soben, I can vouch for that.