Some time ago, I encountered what you might term a broadly based empowerment problem. Let me broadly sketch the situation.

The secretary I'd hired must have been the original dumb blonde. The only literature she said she'd read was an eye chart. In fact, she used to look for the wishbone on a soft boiled egg. Although she was useless and guaranteed to send my stress levels rocketing to life-threatening heights, I was cautioned against firing her.

"Let's face it, Peter," said my colleague, "she's the only one who knows how the filing system works."

She'd devised a method of losing vital documents in alphabetical order. Business came to a virtual standstill as we tried to find our way through the maze of misplaced papers.

How dependent are you on your secretary?

For example, if you want to speak to me on the phone, do you yell at her to "get Peter what's-his-name on the line"? It's a helluva lot easier than summoning the energy required to dial my number yourself. It's the sort of thing you do to accumulate status points as a manager in the traditional mould. It's also what you do when you prepare the business for burial. So keep on getting your minions to perform all your menial tasks: typing, phoning, photocopying, even your bookkeeping.

Which brings me to a scenario I came across in an insurance broker's office in die skadu van ou Tafelberg.

"Miss Van Rooyen," said the senior partner, "always add a column of figures at least three times before you show me the result."

The next day she came into the senior partner's office and flashed a broad smile at her boss.

"Meneer," she cooed, "I added these figures up 10 times."

"Good, Miss Van Rooyen, I like a person to be thorough."

"Ja, meneer, and here are my 10 answers."

There's a business proverb that sums up the situation: "The way to get a job done is to give it to an old-fashioned executive so he can give to someone else to do." Sure, you'll eventually get the job done, but not necessarily to your satisfaction.

Hiring staff to pander to your whim is a sure-fire way to protect yourself from getting your hands dirty at the coal face, so to speak. AT the same time, it'll keep your overheads excessively buoyant. So enjoy your insular little life in the rarefied atmosphere of the executive suite while the going's good. Heaven forbid that you demean yourself by learning to use the phone, a calculator, the photocopier, a computer ...

And whatever you do, never think about running your own show by owning the job. To continue down the slippery path just make like a traditional boss and shout the odds to whoever is too terrified not to listen.

In addition, if you want the business to disintegrate, ignore the writing on the wall. It spells out loud and clear that many traditional corporate positions are going the same way as the dodo. For example, secretaries are an endangered species. They're becoming obsolete.

If you've been cocooned by traditional corporate culture, you probably haven't paid a lot of attention to this thing called empowerment. It's about owning the job. It means that you don't go to work in your business, you go to work on the business.

Let me give you "a for instance" ... Let's suppose I phone you.

"Hello," I say into the mouthpiece. "May I speak to Bill [or whatever your name is]?"
"Sorry," your secretary replies, "he isn't available at the moment. Can I take a message?"
"Sure. Tell Bill that Peter phoned."
About 30 minutes ...
"Hello. Can I please speak to Bill?'
"Sorry. Bill's out. Can I take a message?"
"Yes, please. Tell him Peter called."
About an hour later ...
"Hi, it's Peter again. Is Bill in?"
"Sorry ..." Etc, etc, etc.

And so we play telephonic ping-pong.

So what has this got to do with empowerment and owning the job?

A lot.

It calls on the secretary - let's call her Rhona - to respond with something like: "Bill's not available. How can I help you?"
This gives me the opportunity to give her a detailed rundown of exactly what I'm after.
Rhona hears me out and says: "Fine, Peter, I'll have your answers by three o'clock this afternoon. Will that be okay?"
Now it's her job to find you, get the required info from you and transmit it to me before three o'clock.
Then to add icing to the cake and put a cherry on top, you should phone me later to confirm that I got the information that I wanted.

This is a simple example of empowerment and owning the job. Basically, it's taking personal responsibility for whatever you do from beginning to end.

On the other hand, if you want to scuttle your business ship, implement any or all of the following 10 steps:

Refuse to do anything for yourself that is not explicitly mentioned in your job description.

Confine the activities of those you employ by binding them to constricting job descriptions.

Bring out the beast in yourself. Bark orders. Brook no dissent.

Indulge in over-management by critically monitoring and querying every move made by those who work for you.

Take every opportunity to ferment animosity between yourself and your minions.

Become a memo junkie. Discourage face-to-face meetings and discussions with your lackeys.

Frown on creative thinking by anyone in the organisation: it may lead to innovation.

Condone poor quality products or services. Give the nod to slipshod methods of production.

Encourage inefficiency as a result of blinkered work performance.

Always look for a helping hand at the end of someone else's arm.

1. I thought I made it clear
2. Let's not rock the boat
3. We tried that once before
4. Who cares? It's the company time after all
5. I'm the boss. Do as I say
6. I can't stand change
7. We made the cuts, now lets get back to work
8. I'll do it as soon as possible
9. I prefer to work alone
10. Speaking as a Nestlé man
11. Get him on the line!
12. I've got 20 years experience
13. Let's keep it confidential
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