Empowerment of employees is the buzz word in the industry today. It is hard to find an HR forum where this topic has not been debated in recent times or an HR magazine where this topic has not been written about. HR and Business leaders are grappling with the question: “How should we empower our workforce?” In response to this question, industry thought leaders have made several recommendations. The recommendations have ranged from “giving employees more authority and power” to “giving employees access to best of technology”.
I have a slightly different perspective on this topic. Empowerment is intrinsic and it cannot be handed over to anyone on a platter. Today’s workforce is no exception to this rule. The modern day worker has all it takes to empower herself.
What is happening to WORK today?
Before we discuss workforce empowerment any further, let us see what trends are impacting ‘work’ today. Work itself is going through significant transformation now. Let’s look at an example. In good old days, people used to commute on coaches pulled by horses. Every coach had a coachman who used to drive the coach with the help of horses. With the revolution of the automobile industry, the coach and the horses disappeared. Along with them, the coachman also disappeared. With the entry of passenger cars, the coachman (driver) was no longer required because passengers became drivers themselves. But the story does not end here. Now scientists and designers are contemplating driverless cars. So what would happen next? Probably driving itself will disappear when driverless cars enter the roads. This example explains what is going to happen to work and workers in future. In future, many roles will either become extinct or undergo a massive change in shape and scope. As a result, many would become jobless because their skill-set would no longer match the new requirement of their jobs or even their jobs may no longer exist. By 2020, close to 30% of the workforce would find that their skills have been outdated. How would the workforce deal with this? Well, such a situation would require employees to continuously upgrade their skill-set to avoid getting obsolete. The mantra for the new age worker is: Embrace or perish.
What else is happening to work and workforce today? Progress and innovations in technologies like cloud, mobility, Internet of Things are changing the lives of the present day worker. The implications are far-reaching. Today the concept of brick and mortar offices are changing. Employees are working across different parts of globe in different time zones. In some large organizations over 70% of employees collaborate with their colleagues and peers outside their own country. In such large organizations, over 50% of employees have their managers outside their own country. Conventional workplaces are also undergoing a radical shift. Moreover, the practice of ‘9 am to 5 pm’ office hours is also slowly disappearing. Today’s workforce is always connected – at office, at home and on the go.
By 2020 close to 50% of the workforce would be Gen Y. This generation thinks differently. Their approach to work and life are very different from their previous generations. They are quick-learners, risk-takers and multi—taskers. They are tech-savvy, entrepreneurial in mindset and fiercely competitive. At the same time they value collaboration and work-life balance.
Empowerment of the Workforce
We saw how today’s workforce is going through disruptive transformation. However, the million dollar question is how we are going to empower this dynamic, self-aware and resilient workforce who is always looking to excel, learn a new skill and make an impact. Before we answer this question, let’s first understand the word empowerment a little better. The traditional belief is that empowerment comes from authority or position. However, this has proved wrong time and again in the context of the modern day workforce. The present day workforce is already self-empowered. For them empowerment is not a product of authority or position. For them empowerment comes from the freedom to make choices. In other words, the workforce in an organization is considered to be empowered, if the following criteria are met:
- Employees are free to act in the best interest of their Customer and their Organization.
- Everyone has on-demand access to information they need to take decisions and act.
- Everyone is free to experiment and try out new things. No one is penalized for making mistakes or failing.
- Everyone has access to peers, experts, mentors within the organization to seek and share knowledge and co-create new knowledge.
Role of HR and Business Leaders
If we look at the aforesaid criteria, it is clear that in an organization with a highly empowered workforce, employee is the doer and HR is only a facilitator. HR plays the role of a catalyst in bringing people in contact with sources of knowledge to facilitate learning and decision making. HR also plays a crucial role in bringing people in contact with other relevant people within the organization to facilitate sharing and collaboration. HR and Business leaders must:
- Build an ecosystem and create a context where employees discover who to collaborate with to develop capabilities
- Facilitate interactions among employees and ensure that these become intrinsic to the way the Organization functions
- Provide the right technologies, systems and technologies to employees in order to facilitate learning, sharing and engagement
Changing Role of HR
If HR can drive the aforesaid actions as a catalyst, they can provide all the ingredients to build a Learning Organization. Are HR practitioners ready for this challenge? Do they have the right mind set, tool set and skill-set to be able to drive this transformation or is there a gap. I guess this is going to be the topic of my next blog. J