In organizations, empowerment means granting employees the autonomy to assume a more active and responsible role. This is accomplished by strengthening their sense of effectiveness as well as by sharing power, information and the responsibility to manage their own work as much as possible. In terms of organizational culture, empowerment is related to the Individual Autonomy dimension.
2. The pros and cons of empowerment
But why should we empower our employees? Here are some benefits that empowerment may bring to organizations:
- Improves communication and decision making
- Improves morale, motivation and commitment
- Creates “ownership” of the job
- Increases job satisfaction
- Increases risk-taking and innovation
- Improves relationships with customers and suppliers
- Reduces layers of management
On the other hand, empowerment may also have some negative effects:
- Not everyone wants to be empowered
- We can not just empower staff and assume that they will assume the empowerment
- Empowerment may not be appropriate for some organizations
- Empowerment actually requires more management effort
- Empowerment means changes and constant changes may keep things unsettled
- There is a risk that empowerment efforts may fail
3. Barriers to empowerment
Here are some barriers that may prevent empowerment to be implemented:
From the aspect of organization:
- Lack of trust between manager and staff
- No clear definition and policy about accountability
- Empowered staff do not receive enough training to be able to handle the empowerment
- No differentiation between staff
- Lack of communication
- Unclear vision
From the aspect of manager:
- Unwillingness to give up control
- Reluctance to change management style
- Fear of losing position
- Cling to old accountability
From the aspect of staff:
- Do not want to be accountable
- Do not realize their values and potentials
- Fear of losing position due to new accountability
- Lack of training
4. Implementing empowerment
By understanding possible barriers to empowerment, here are how empowerment can be implemented in organizations:
At company level:
- Develop a clear mission and communicate it clearly to all employees
- Build trust within the organization at all levels
- Build an organizational culture that encourage innovation and risk taking
- Provide adequate training so that staff can handle the empowerment
- Replace hierarchical structure with self-managed teams
- Set clear boundaries for authority and accountability
At team level:
- Get staff to involve in selecting their work assignments and the methods for accomplishing tasks
- Create and environment of cooperation, information sharing, discussion, and shared ownership of goals
- Encourage staff to take initiative, make decision, and use their knowledge
- When problems arise, find out what staff think and let them help design the solutions
- Stay out of the way, give staff the freedom to put their ideas and solutions into practice
- Maintain high morale and confidence by recognizing successes and encouraging high performance
5. Empowerment in startup
In my opinion, empowerment should be compulsory in startup company and become part of its organizational culture for the following reasons:
- In terms of organizational culture, startup company should have high level of Individual Autonomy dimension and this can only be achieved via empowerment.
- Employees in startup company are usually the “A players” and they are likely to have the ability to handle empowerment.
- Startup company is there to grow fast and so are its employees. Empowerment will prepare and help them to grow.
- For startup software company, such Agile methodologies as Scrum or Extreme Programming requires self-managed teams and this can only be achieved via the implementation of empowerment.
Bess, D., 2012. Power, BUS 626 Organizational Behavior. University of Hawaii at Manoa, unpublished.
“Employees are the most valuable assets of a company”. This statement is correct for most organizations and it is extremely correct for startups, in which no other assets such as branding and products exist yet. As a result, hiring the “right” people is very essential for the success of a startup, especially where one employee can represent 20% or even 50% of the company’s workforce.
After working for two startup companies and reading articles about startups’ recruitment, I come up with a list of characteristics of an employee that a startup should hire:
- Top talented: Startup is all about innovation, creativity and differentiation and you really need the top talented team members to achieve those. You will need what is so-called the “A players” because “A players” will attract other “A players” whereas “B players” only hire “C players” due to the fact that “B players” are less confident in their talent and they prefer working with people who are not better than them.
- Flexible and agile: Startup is all about trial and error to figure out the business model that works. As a result, your team members need to be flexible and agile enough to make the changes or at least to adapt to changes. In a startup company, people should be willing to pivot, even when that means they need to throw away all the existing progress.
- “Can do” attitude: Startup is usually about new products, new technologies, new solutions; something that have never been done before. As a result, it is very important that the team members must have a “can do” attitude, the willingness to try new thing and do not afraid of failure. In my opinion, young employees are usually better than senior employees in terms of this “can do” attitude. From my experience, senior employees, who have more knowledge and experience, usually use their knowledge and experience to prove the impossibles the ideas, not the other way around.
- “Get shit done” attitude: For a startup, it is more important to get the task done than to follow certain process to achieve it. As a result, team members should be willing to do whatever it is necessary to achieve the result. It is quite normal in a startup that: I don’t care how you gonna do it, I just need to get it done.
- Risk-taker: Startup is all about opportunities, and of course, about risks. Working in a startup company is a risk itself. Team members should be willing to take risks to seize the opportunities.
- Self-motivated: It is very important for a team member to be self-motivated in a startup company due to the fact that others (including the founder) will not have enough time, and also responsibility, to motivate him. Self-motivation can be achieved if team members have strong belief in the vision of the company. From my experience, employees without self-motivation can not wait until the startup succeeds.
- Multi-roles player: Members of a startup should be able to play multiple roles at the same time due to the fact that startup usually has just a few people in the early date. In the first startup company that I worked for, I played the roles of a Developer, a Project Manager and a HR Manager, all at the same time.
Some of the characteristics in this list are good for every type of organization, not just the startup ones, such as top talented and self-motivated. Others may only be appropriate for startups such as risk-taker and multi-roles player. One more important thing is that it is essential for the employees to fit into the startup culture, which is driven by the strategic plan.
The term “startup” is becoming more and more popular, mostly in the IT industry. Most of the IT news are now writing about startups: people found it, analyze it, work for it and invest into it. You can find IT companies that call themselves “startup” everywhere, from such developed countries as the US to developing ones such as Vietnam. I myself have worked for two companies that call themselves startups, however, I still don’t have a clear definition of a startup. So what criteria define a startup? Is it the age of the company? Or the size? Or something else? I saw companies that have more than 100 employees and still call themselves startup. I saw companies that are more than 3 years old and still call themselves startup. So it seems to me that there is no “unified” definition for a startup.
The purpose of this post is to present a list of all possible criteria that may define a startup. My personal opinions will also be give in the conclusion.
2. Criteria that define a startup
A quick literature review shows that different people have different criteria for startup. This list suggests all possible criteria that people may use to define a startup:
- Age: Is less than 1 year old
- Size: Have less than 100 employees
- Revenue: Generate a revenue less than X amount of money
- Office: Do not have actual satellite office (office that have more than just a representative)
- Focus: Focus on learning, discovery and crazy growth instead of profit
- Growth: Is designed to grow fast
- Output: Expected output is a new product, a new technology or a solution for existing challenges in the market
- Members: Majority of the members (more than 50%) are entrepreneurs
- Culture: Have a “startup culture”
- Business model: Is designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model
According to my literature review, the criteria about “business model” is the most widely accepted one, followed by the “growth” criteria. I myself totally agree to this definition: A startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. So as long as you are still figuring out how to make money, you are still a startup, despite of the age and size of your company. I also strongly disagree to the “culture” criteria: A company is a startup because it has “startup culture”. In my opinion, it should be the other way around: Because you are a startup company, you must have a startup organizational culture so that your culture is aligned with your strategic plan.
Acting as a follow-up on the previous post, in this post I will discuss about how to use the seven key dimensions model to define an “appropriate” organizational culture for a particular company. A typical start-up software company will be discussed in this case due to the fact that this type of company is quite popular nowadays as well as I am very familiar with it.
The first rule of thumb to remember when defining an organizational culture is that it must be aligned with the company objectives and strategic plan. This acts as the main principle when defining the seven key dimensions of the organizational culture:
- Individual Autonomy: High. In a start-up company, each individual should have a high degree of responsibility and independence to get as much job done as possible. Empowerment should be encouraged and decision-making should be decentralized. To adapt quickly to the rapid changes of the market, more and more software companies apply agile methodologies such as Extreme Programming or Scrum. Those methodologies required self-managed and self-organized staffs and this can only be achieved with a high level go individual autonomy.
- Structure: Low. A flat organizational structure is strongly encouraged for a start-up software company. In addition, it should not have a lot of rules and policies, which may have bad impacts on the inspiration and creativity of its employees. In the software industry, creativity and ideas are the key factors to success.
- Support: High. In my opinion, high degree of assistance and warmth provided by managers to their subordinates is always a good thing in all company, not just a start-up software one.
- Identification: High. Similarly to the Support dimension, it is always good for an organization when its employees are proud of being part of it. A high level of Identification is also good for company branding.
- Performance Reward: High. In a start-up company, performance should be the main factor that affect such rewards as salary increase, bonus and promotion, not seniority or loyalty.
- Conflict Tolerance: High. Conflicts should be encouraged in a start-up software company, as long as they are related to work and they are not personal conflicts. High level of work-related conflicts can increase creativity and help to find the optimal solutions, which are vert important in the software industry.
- Risk Tolerance: High. Similar to the Conflict Tolerance dimension, a high level of Risk Tolerance provides more advantages than disadvantages to a software company. When taking risk is encouraged, it is more likely to find creative and optimal solutions in the software industry.
Once the key dimensions of the organizational culture have been defined, they can be “implemented” within the following artifacts:
- Mission statement, logo and slogan
- Policies and rules
- Reward system
- Organizational structure
- Physical layout of the office
- Recruitment process
- Orientation program for new employees
- Management and leadership style