Pramit Nairi's Collection of writing
updated semi-regularly

24 February, 2013


This piece by Emily Wilder over at 37signals got me thinking about "empowerment" and what it means – at least how it applies to where we work.

Emily says:

Now, we’re empowered to do right by our customers, so that’s part of it—we can all take care of billing issues or ID merges or whatever our users need without going to a manager. (Psst: there is no manager.)

If you missed it, read this bit again:

we’re empowered to do right by our customers

That's huge – especially for folks in a customer support role – and it kinda blew my mind. The companies I choose to continue doing business with (Citibank, American Express, T-Mobile, Apple, BMW, to name a few) have all evolved the part of the business where their employees come in contact with the customers – you know, the ones who keep the companies alive by paying them for their product/service – to the point where each of them can really deliver or affect the reason for the contact in the first place.

Taking this whole concept a little further, think about your business and what keeps it alive. Who is your customer and who are the people interacting with them? Are they allowed to make intelligent and "do what's right" decisions without having to go through a painful process or wait for ever? What's in it for them to do whatever it takes to make their customer happy? See... that's where empowerment comes into play.

But there's more to it – there needs to be a clear and measurable incentive to make this empowerment work. Does everyone reap the benefits or does it make an individual an unfair hero?

I'm of the opinion that flatter organizations – startups are a great example – are great at this. Everyone has a reason to do whatever's necessary to deliver. People solve problems they discover, but aren't supposed to formally solve, because they want to see the product succeed, not because it's their job.

It doesn't end up becoming "someone else's problem" and there's no paper to shuffle. Things end up being very simple – problem, meet solution. Done!

Sure, this isn't for every organization or person, but in this fast-paced world, organizations could benefit by some degree of autonomy and empowerment. Who knows, maybe stuff wouldn't suck as much and people wouldn't be in operator hell.