If you really want to empower people, don’t do ‘empowerment theatre.’ Instead, think about what level of delegation you’re comfortable with now and what would need to be true for you to move to a higher number. The 3 Jobs of Management model gives you a concrete way to think about how to create the conditions necessary to get good results from that empowerment. Over time, creating more clarity, increased capability, and better systems will lead to more empowered individuals and teams and ultimately to better business outcomes.
Just saying “you’re empowered” doesn’t make it happen. In this episode, Peter and Richard offer a more nuanced way to think about empowerment and a structured path to increase the level of empowerment for your employees and teams.
Empowering teams and individuals is kind of the cool thing to do these days, but it’s not as easy as just saying “You’re empowered!” I remember reading David Marquet’s awesome book “Turn the Ship Around,” where he shifted all decision making authority from himself as captain to the direct reports on his submarine. And the results were phenomenal. I wondered how he made it work. Around the same time, I had a boss who really wanted to give me a high level of autonomy in the work I did and how I did it. And he mostly left me alone to do what I wanted, which felt great, but then as I was trying to make decisions, I was often missing important context that he had, and occasionally he would come in with a change in priorities without much explanation, which was pretty frustrating.
In this episode, we’re going to look at two big ideas: The first is a more nuanced way to think about empowerment. And the second, a structured path for moving from less empowerment to more empowerment in particular situations.
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We find Jurgen Appelo’s 7 Levels of Delegation to be a really useful model for thinking about sharing power or authority. We’ll link to his original article in the show notes, but here’s a quick overview.
When people think about delegation or about sharing authority, they tend to think about 3 extremes:
- It’s my decision,
- It’s your decision, or
- We have to agree on the decision
In the 7 Levels of Delegation, those are 3 of the levels, but they’re not actually the most useful ones. There’s nuance in between that’s much more practical for real-world decision-making. So, here are the 7 levels, modeled from the perspective of the leader sharing power:
Level 1 is TELL. At level 1, it’s my decision. I’ll tell you what I decided but we’re not really going to discuss it.
Level 2 is SELL. At level 2, it’s still my decision, but I’m going to try to bring you along. I’m going to answer your questions and try to create alignment.
Level 3 is CONSULT. Now it starts getting interesting. Declaring a decision to be at level 3 means, I’m going to decide, but I’ll consult you and take your input into account before I make a decision. Often, in practice, this actually feels like deciding together but with a clear tie-breaker so we don’t get stuck.
Level 4 is AGREE. At level 4, there’s no decision unless we agree on it. Level 4 means consensus, which is slow and sometimes leads to no decision at all. We try to avoid Level 4 except in cases like working agreements where we want everyone to own the agreement.
Level 5 is ADVISE. This is the mirror image of level 3. Now, it’s your decision, and I’d like you to seek and consider my advice before making a decision. Again, like level 3, level 5 in practice can feel like deciding together, but now you’re the tie-breaker instead of me.
Level 6 is INQUIRE, the mirror image of level 2. You decide, but I want to be able to ask questions and be brought along with the decision.
Finally, level 7 is DELEGATE. It’s totally your decision, and I’m giving up the right to expect you to explain the rationale behind the decision.
When it comes to empowering teams and individuals, this model helps us in two ways. First, it gives us shared language to talk about how we’re sharing authority. And it allows us to apply different levels for different kinds of decisions. Second, it gives leaders a way to think and talk about moving decisions from one level to another. If a decision is currently at, say, level 3—I’m deciding with my employee’s advice—but I want to move it to level 5—where my employee decides with my input, I can ask myself, “What keeps me from making this 3 into a 5?”
And that’s where the Humanizing Work 3 Jobs of Management model comes in.
“If I want to move this from a 3 to a 5, what additional clarity do they need? What capability do I need to help increase? What system improvements are needed here?”
We’ve talked at length about the 3 Jobs model in past episodes. So we’ll drop a link to more about the model in the show notes.
We recently taught the 7 Levels of Delegation model to a senior executive and her leadership team. We’ll call her Vicki for the purposes of this example. The clarity of that model really resonated with the team, and for each decision they had to make, someone would chime in by asking Vicki, “Hey, what level are you at on this one?”
As we moved through the backlog of decisions that team was making, Vicki realized that she was usually at a level 2 or a 3, but she wished she could be at a 5 or 6 more often. So we pulled up the 3 Jobs of Management model and asked “Which of these would you need to focus on in order to move that decision from a 3 to a 5?” Each time, Vicki identified one or two focus areas from the model that would make her comfortable: “Oh, if I created greater clarity on the strategy, then the team could totally own that decision at a 5,” or “If we had a better system for hiring, I would trust the team to own those hiring decisions at a 5 or maybe even a 6.”
The 3 Jobs model helped Vicki see that true empowerment wasn’t just saying “You’re empowered,” and then fretting about whether they’d make a good decision or not. Instead, it gave her a clear path to create the conditions where she could feel great about empowering her team to make decisions, even better ones than she would make, since they were closer to the work. After the session, she came up and shared that one benefit she was really excited about was she could see an end state where, if she kept doing this work, she would end up with much more time to do important strategic work she always tended to run out of time for when she had to be the final decision maker on everything.
So if you really want to empower people, don’t do “empowerment theater.” Instead, think about what level of delegation you’re comfortable with now and what would need to be true for you to move to a higher number. The 3 Jobs management model gives you a concrete way to think about how to create the conditions necessary to get good results from that empowerment. Over time, creating more clarity, increased capability, and better systems will lead to more empowered individuals and teams and ultimately to better business outcomes