There Is No Secret Sauce in Employee Empowerment

Jac Domney
There aren’t many things I obsess over more than basketball. Pair that with the fact I’m a 90’s kid, means I am obligated to say – Space Jam is the best-animated film of all time. Last weekend, I rewatched Michael Jordan join forces with the Looney Tunes, and realised, there are a lot of life lessons in there. 

Listing all of these could be an article in itself, but one scene in particular, resonates. During the epic halftime battle against the Monstars, Bugs Bunny gives his teammates, the Tune Squad, a bottle of water labeled “Michael’s Secret Stuff.” The Squad believe they’ve downed a magic elixir designed to help them dribble and jump like Jordan. It inevitably leads them to victory. 

The key takeaway here is around what can be achieved if your team believes they are empowered to reach for something they previously thought was not possible. I’ve watched this happen at Kiandra, as our own ‘Secret Stuff” in the form of autonomy has been passed around our software squad and we’ve been able to achieve amazing things.

Like most businesses the start of a new financial year is an opportunity to revisit strategy. This year all members of the software team were asked what strategic items they most wanted to contribute to. Based on the responses, teams were formed and tasked with achieving the required outcomes. 

With an understanding of the business goals, we were set free with the autonomy to pave our own path to the final destination. Three months in, I can tell you that this has been invigorating. With a clear purpose uniting our teams, we are armed with everything we need to succeed.

Employees who take pride in being on a mission together can make major positive impacts on productivity and culture. Our own squad has a boosted sense of satisfaction since taking on these strategic items because we are all aligned to the same transparent mission. And without needing to plaster a succinct statement across our walls, we all have an understanding of how our work fits into the larger picture. 

Former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch understood the benefits of employees having this shared understanding saying, “No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energised employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.” We are all contributing to our impact-oriented mission at the helm of where we want the company to be, and introducing positive change.

Autonomy drives employee engagement and it’s something all high performing teams have ingrained in their culture. However, as a manager, how do you give this autonomy without the fear of outcomes not being as you envisioned? 

With an understanding on what autonomy is and what it isn’t, this fear can be alleviated. Autonomous employees do not do whatever they like, the company mission defines clear boundaries where employees operate in, and it is within this environment teams have the freedom to make decisions. In successful autonomous organisations, the outcome is at the forefront, not how you got there – this is on the premise that everyone is going to take a different path to get to the result. 

My team is working on ways to better attract and retain talent, something I have been passionate about during my time at Kiandra. We started this working group based on an understanding of what we would be measured by, with a focus on time spent to recruit. 

However, our group decided to pivot and we are now reaching out to production houses and evaluating our employee value proposition. There may be a small part of our Head of Software that is screaming inside, but trusting our team to make this shift has only further galvanised us to show we made the right decision.

Achieving our strategy items has hinged on collaboration. For some items, this is explicitly required as my team would not be able to achieve outcomes without the help of both our Marketing and People & Culture teams. However, what we have started to see is, as more are empowered, everyone contribute towards our mission and people start to engage with other teams, identifying areas for collaboration, and wanting to contribute to other items they haven’t been allocated. This works to inspire new ideas, generate better solutions and foster our culture. 

Michael Jordan ends up winning the game against the Monstars in the final seconds by stretching his arms and dunking from half court, and just like Jordan, our team have all had opportunities to grow and learn new skills due to our work contributing to company strategy. We’ve all had to think strategically, take on leadership responsibilities and be innovative. These strategic items have been a catalyst for the entire team’s professional development. By investing in the team’s professional growth, Kiandra is going to be directly rewarded with great outcomes, and more skilled engaged employees.

Just like “Michael’s Secret Stuff” was nothing more than water, there is no real secret to what our software team is doing, I may not be able to dunk a basketball, but if I thought it would help us reach our goals I know I would be given everything I needed to try. 

Empowered employees with a clear understanding of the strategic direction, have a clear purpose and are more engaged and innovative. Whether this team is a rag tag group of cartoons or a squad of software professionals, there is no telling what they will be able to achieve when united.

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