Management Talk: Empowerment breeds success

Very few believe that the government sector has actually structured its functioning to empower people at various levels, but it has. Yes, we hear about bureaucratic delays, the reasons (if quoted right) are more for scrutiny and getting into the depth to ensure it benefits people at large., Business

23 May 2016 | By Suresh Ramakrishnan

In an earlier company I worked for, several years back, there was this gentleman who used to take care of administrative affairs. He had retired as a Colonel from the armed forces. Over several lunch sessions, he helped me with certain valuable insights on the functioning of the armed forces. The one that caught my attention was that even a junior officer of a small regiment at a remote location was assigned a budget during the year and he had the right to deploy it to what he thought would bring success to his team / regiment and the country. Based on the situation, he could take a call on what to do without checking with anyone. His performance was determined by how well he deployed the funds and the how well it paid off. The armed forces, as we all know, is trained adequately to sense the right call to take. The rigour brings confidence in them to make informed decisions.

Couple of years back, during a conversation with a junior secretary in a government department, I learnt that every contract awarded at different levels carries with it a clause that the concerned vendor can be prosecuted by the junior officer, if the terms and conditions are not complied with. A decision-making chain that is likely to delay the action does not bind him or her. The systems and process that they follow, which has elements of reporting back on the work being carried out and the resultant progress thereof, is monitored closely for delays and their experience tells them which of the projects are going off track. (Government departments are known for decision apathy; it is not the provisions that causes delay, vested interests are largely to be blamed for this.)

I truly believe and have read about it too that there is no GPS system on this planet that can beat a postman in India. It is just not their understanding of every street, every house and every individual in a locality that is their biggest asset, it is the deep understanding of the people whom they visit regularly - they feel empowered to engage, understand emotions, empathise where required, be the literate messiah to translate or write not only letters but important documents and as a recent initiative, assess potential (to sell life insurance schemes) as well. Many things they do may not necessarily be written in a rulebook but it is the respect that people, especially in distant villages and towns endow them with that empowers them to walk the distance, beyond their call of duty. It is not surprising that certain eCommerce giants have engaged the postal department to deliver parcels to distant locations with a trust that it will be delivered without fail and into the right hands.

Empowerment breeds success if and only if

  • One passes the acid test of trust and integrity. This is primary to empowerment, no second thoughts
  • Exhibits knowledge, aptitude and appetite to make good decisions
  • It helps one evolve and caters to their aspiration

Suresh Ramakrishnan is the publisher at Haymarket Media (India)