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The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive…and so in a sense it is all about potential.
— Steve Ballmer, former CEO, Microsoft Corporation
Steve Ballmer isn’t the only one who thinks information technology is an important tool to reach potential. A lot of respected sources, from Bill Gates to scholarly research, point to a strong connection between effective IT and effective, empowered employees.
Leadership that gives employees IT tools to access, interact with, and share information with those around them may reap the potential rewards. With more context, employees may be able to suggest innovation or alternate methods that not only get the job done, but sometimes get the job done better.
Contrast this to a top-down or autocratic management style.
We’ve probably all experienced decision-making that doesn’t encourage contribution from the frontline. Not to say that top-down management is always bad: sometimes projects just need to get done. Or, long-view strategic decisions need the detachment of a leader acting more or less solo.
By-and-large however, it’s accepted that a culture of consistent autocratic management can lower employee morale; which in turn may lead to problems with quality of work, not to mention damage to a company’s reputation that can make recruiting (and retaining) talent difficult.
The authors of a Harvard Business School article point out that
They encourage leadership to act as facilitators for employees – communicating and connecting them with the resources that let them do their jobs well and contribute to the whole.
All that said: the fact remains that the top-down management approach is still the most common model in business today.
Why does autocratic management survive? Noted psychologist Douglas McGregor presented “Theory X” as a possible motive. Basically, the idea is that managers believe (consciously or unconsciously) that employees must have strict supervision or they will goof off. So it could be that managing in this way just feels… well… managerial. The boss feels absolutely in charge and that potential slackers are being kept with their noses to the grindstone.
In opposition, McGregor offers “Theory Y”: managers may take the stance that employees want to feel empowered and involved, and do their jobs better when management allows and helps them to. This kind of employee participation and involvement may sometimes mean discussion and/or disagreement. But, as Wharton Business School notes, “strong leaders encourage dissent, and gain commitment”. Kenneth Blanchard puts it this way: “None of us is as smart as all of us”.
A (Technological) Culture of Contribution
Exceptional leaders can create a culture of empowerment: a framework that does more than just pay lip service to employee involvement. Inside this framework, employees are able to interact with both each other and information so they can contribute in an impactful way, and know that those contributions will be welcome.
As Steve Ballmer noted, IT can play an important role in facilitating and encouraging this kind of dynamic environment.
- Relationships: IT as a bridge. It might even seem like a distraction, but “chatting” and “messaging” can help build relationships. You never know when a chat might end up as a brainstorming session. Or by knowing a colleague’s personality, an employee may be able to make a request in the right manner to Git-R-Done (to borrow a phrase) more quickly.
- Accessibility: IT as a door. This concept is two-fold. Not only can IT give employees access to more information, it can also give them access to management they might not otherwise have. For example: leaders may reach out via video, and employees can respond in emails and texts. That might be a little less intimidating (and more cost-effective) than each employee having a sit-down with the CEO.
- Sharing: IT as a two-way street. IT can be a great way to share ideas, share information, and share the credit! Employees who communicate and collaborate can create a sum that’s greater than its parts. And with contributors clearly identified, there’s less of a chance of an individual getting lost in the shuffle when it comes time to share the glory.
We at 5i Solutions Inc. agree with the experts. IT can be the bridge, door, and street that empowers contribution. By accessing and interacting with vital information and each other in meaningful ways employees have the chance to innovate and learn. And, if we subscribe to Theory Y, a valued, contributing employee is a happy employee.
5i offers Innovative Ideas for Intelligent Interaction of Information. That means cutting-edge, intelligent technology solutions customized for you and your business. We can help give your employees efficient and secure access to the cloud and each other. 5i can provide the IT link that empowers your employees.
5i Solutions. One single, secure point of intake, access, and storage. One singular solution.
5i Solutions, Inc.