Making Empowerment Work

Some BPM consultants propose that processes are the most important corporate asset. I disagree because a process is an abstract entity that produces no value. Value is defined by human interaction in the real world. While abstract processes promise to make that human interaction more controllable they ignore human nature and workplace psychology, much as socialism and communism do. These are idealistic concepts that fail in the real world of individual human agents. People are at their best when they feel that their contribution is valued as an individual. Therefore the idea of empowerment – making people responsible for their work – has been around for some time.

Why you would want to empower employees?

Empowerment is often misunderstood as authority for decisionmaking for everyone. Some tries at empowerment have failed to show the hoped for results because they followed the idea that all people are the same. The most important element of empowerment is the realization that people are different. Not clever and dumb, or lazy and hardworking, but just people in the wrong place.

I go with the 80/20 Pareto rule. 20% of people are responsible for 80% of results. But one can not fire the other 80% of people as the remaining would again structure the same. It means that only 20% of people have the interest and capability to take responsibility. I see them as process owners (PO) who can be given goals to chase. 20% is actually enough as the ideal team size is ten which provides one teamleader and one assistant/stand-in per team. The other eight rather want to be part of and even feel better when they are empowered as a team. If a person is unhappy as team member he may be a PO candidate, in the wrong team or have some other issues with job/private life relationships. If a team fails on goals the PO may be the problem.

So who manages the POs? At best two percent of people are natural motivators, people leaders, creative gurus and entrepreneurs. Ten process owners with a hundred people report to the 2% motivators/entrepreneur (ME) types. Voilá, there is your LEAN organization with the executive in the third line that ten MEs report to. It indicates that businesses get much harder to manage over a 1000 people and that I find confirmed by my own experience as well as Schuhmacher’s ‘Small is beautiful’. Size is not everything.

Empowerment requires two important elements: first, skilled people and second, business and process transparency. Calling for a coach is not an admittance of failure and sending in a coach is not punishment but a support action. The 2% MEs can be coaches or use additional coaches who should ideally have grown from the business itself.

Transparency is best achieved by a collaborative process support infrastructure – certainly not your run-of-the-mill BPM/SOA software. Transparency enables monitoring of (business) goal achievement of each team to verify if goals are set sensibly and well understood. There are no flows for the process of a PO, but Role Activity Diagrams are practical to show PO relationships. POs are empowered to question goals and can decide to change the way their goals are achieved. All structureal changes are agreed upon by the pre and post linked POs with the ME in attendance.

architectured collaboration

What is needed to empower people in a process-owning business?

  1. Forget flowcharts: Starting with a process flow focus puts process improvements into a meta level. This is the main reason that I am against flowcharting processes. It adds bureaucracy and reduces the agility of the responsible process owner.
  2. Define the process owners: Utilize RAD role activity diagrams to model the structure of process owners for all processes that you need to improve. Map out through which real-world deliverables they serve each other.
  3. Customer service goals: The goal achievement (customer satisfaction) optimization loop must be responsibility of that process owner. A normal flowchart can not redesign and optimize itself.
  4. Real-time business data: The process owner needs real-time business data to measure his goal achievement and the authority to execute towards those goals. IT is essential for that to add the transparency that the PO and the executive needs.
  5. Define real-world entities only: Real world entities to be delivered to a customer according to cost and quality goals are plausible. Process flow is abstract and not understood.
  6. States – Events – Rules: Real world entities that have plausible states and are linked together with rules create plausible process states and can be easily improved by adding new entities, new rules and new actors without redesign.
  7. Do not fragment process execution: Most BPM analyst and consultants propose that you need multiple best-of-breed BPM products to cover all process needs. That is utterly ignorant! Pi-calculus proves that a network model of connected entities can map any flow logic. Structured (10%), Dynamic (80%) and Ad-Hoc processes (10%) can all be handled in one system.
  8. Service and Support processes are the same: Deliverables in all process types are achievable with the same state/event/rule model. Using an adaptible process model reduces the nedd for support meta-processes such as change management dramatically. The functional change management of the processes must be part of the process platform and executable by the process owners.

A Process Definition for Empowerment:

The executive defines a business strategy and architecture by assigning processes.

  • Process owners networked in Role Activity Diagrams
  • Process goals

The PO uses that to define how to execute:

  • Customer
  • real world deliverable entities (properties, state, relationship)
  • deliverables used from other processes
  • global game rules and local process rules
  • process states
  • role based presentation

IT and business necessities:

  • role/policy authorization model
  • entity data linkage to backend apps
  • reporting transparency and hierarchy
  • auditing and archiving


So why would empowerment work better than stick and carrot, known as reward and punishment, or strict quality monitoring? Each action in an empowered organization drives productivity forward, while rigidly planned organizations (hierarchically or not) waste bureaucratic energy on analysis and designs, policing procedures and reward/punishment systems. Not only that but each controlling or monitoring action, and each reward will cause counterproductive forces in the organization. When I was a salesman in IBM, the sales commission system caused a lot of distortion of what was sold to the customer and sales always used it to their advantage.

Today most IT solutions either use pre- and hardcoded processes that are then enforced. Employees have to execute standardized processes (to reduce cost) for an abstract, statistically classified customer. IT is seen mostly as a people and cost reduction tool by automating and industrializing.

The missed opportunity is however that it could also be used for a new kind of architectured collaboration (Web2.0 for business entities) that truly enables empowerment. IT would suddenly not be an expense but turn the business into a new kind of organization with unheard of dynamics.

I am the founder and Chief Technology Officer of Papyrus Software, a medium size software company offering solutions in communications and process management around the globe. I am also the owner and CEO of MJP Racing, a motorsports company focused on Rallycross or RX, a form of circuit racing on mixed surfaces that has been around for 40 years. I hold 8 national and international championship titles in RX. My team participates in the World Championship along Petter Solberg, Sebastian Loeb and Ken Block.

Posted in Business Architecture, Executives, Human Resources, People Management, Web 2.0
3 comments on “Making Empowerment Work
  1. kswenson says:

    Max, you seem like the kind of person who will actually read documents. I have been a proponent of empowerment for a long time — and that is quite ironic given that most BPM support is the antithesis of empowerment. I would like the chance to develop these ideas further through discussion.

    What you call a “collaborative process support infrastructure” I have called a “Collaborative Planning System” in the past. They are probably not exactly the same, but pretty close.

    I would to get your comment on a couple of old papers on the topic:

    Collaborative Planning: Empowering the
    User in a Process Support Environment:

    A Business Process Environment Supporting Collaborative Planning:

    Of course there are things that need updating. Please keep in mind that these were written “pre-Netscape” (before widespread adoption of HTTP and HTML) and so clearly there a technology updates (particularly for social networks which was unanticipated at that time) but the central ideas seem to be aligned with what you write in this blog post. Or at least I would like to see if you think so.


  2. Keith, I have read those papers. It is pretty amazing that we are very much aligned. We even use the same state/event concept. Even the graphical displays are similar, which we have tried lately to make them look more like BPMN notation so that people will accept it easier. I also had my ideas pre-Netscape time and because I could not find anything that would align with … so I developed such a system myself. Certainly social networks was not there but the principles were also embedded for example in Lotus Notes.

    It seems that we want something that people cant grip. They think in rigid processes and thats what they get. maybe we expect too much from people. I believe that most probably we need to wait for a new generation of users and find a new kind of GUI that will make a collaborative style natural. I think that once some business really becomes successful using this kind of approach globally things might change … I also believe that a architectured approach with AI support will be the trick … may take some time but I am hanging in there.


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Max J. Pucher
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by Max J. Pucher. All rights reserved.

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