There is something very weird about the way we solve issues especially when it comes to help others. We either give them the solution considering that they cannot solve it alone or we give them the tools and knowledge they need to do so. We can see this in organization on a daily basis. Some bosses will always look down at you while leaders will give you the power to achieve your goals. I already clarified the difference between Bosses and leaders behavior in a post. The bosses are not ready to transfer their knowledge. Leaders on the other side guide your learning and give you hints when you need them. Sometimes we just repeat what we were told without really understanding what it means. We know that 1+1=2 but do we know why? In very specific situation 1+1 can equal 1 or 3. It depends on what those numbers and signs represent.
We created common frameworks of knowledge that allow us to communicate ideas quickly but sometimes we forget that the person in front of us may not have the same understanding or knowledge as we do. This is when we try to help them. This is when we think they need to know what 1+1 gives. This is when we assume that we know better when in fact we just know our way and not theirs. How many conflicts emerged when someone or a department wanted to help others and gave them a ready to use solution and then the solution was regarded with disdain and rejected? Doesn’t it sounds familiar to you?
Well, then you faced a situation where someone was trying to assist you. You may welcome assistance because your need is punctual. In this case, it may make no sense to learn a new skill. I would encourage you to learn new skills when the issues happens more often.
There are 6 main differences between empowering people and assisting them. Here they are:
- Understand the person/group background
- Assess competences
- 2 ways communication
- Suggest possible ways to solve the issue
- Teach appropriate tools and knowledge
- Guide and give hints
- Come as the savior
- Not pay attention to people background
- Underestimate people capacity to learn
- 1 way communication
- Use specialized language that only the helper understands
- Giving directives without explaining their consequences
Empowering employees seems to give them responsibilities for their fate while assisting them put them in a dependent relationship to their helper. It is true that we are all interdependent and that each department has a specialization. Unfortunately, the belief that IT people cannot understand or learn from HR issues or that Finance cannot work hand in hand with R&D creates paralyzed organizations. Working in organizations where everyone is assisting each other does not permit to dig deep in the issue and find its real roots. This may cause the issues to appear again and feed a vicious circle where the helper always has to help over and over again.
I am not saying it is easy to change from assisting people to empowering them. I am saying it is a must if we want to work in companies where solutions are found, people are creative, issues are opportunities and learning is a common thing. It is also more rewarding to see people go beyond their boundaries and find solutions to issues they know very well.
Who is the most competent to solve an issue than the one who is having it?
People do not need your assistance they need to be consider capable to solve their own issue.
Here is how you could go from Assisting your employee to Empowering them.
- Check background by asking questions.
- Assess competencies and knowledge
- Develop a 2 ways communication with feedback from both sides
- Define together learning necessities & ways to solve issues
- Teach skills and knowledge
- Guide employee in the solving process
Empowering your employees helps to foster their engagement. We also have to take into consideration that some employee may never have the desire to be empowered and remain assisted. It will be your role to evaluate this need and make sure to keep your employee engaged.