Information Flow

Leadership: Pushing Authority to the Information

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Many business owners, chief executives and professional managers are embracing, to one level or another, the concept that we have to lead our organizations to move faster and provide outstanding customer service. And by now, many are tired of hearing that they must change their business model if they truly want to survive, let alone thrive. But that’s the case and we all suspect we know why; in a word – technology.

I don’t think it’s hype to state that technology has changed everyone’s personal and professional lives. This is of course especially true of those in the industrialized countries, but it is true globally for all people. And so our businesses can’t escape. One of the perhaps not-so-visible shifts due to technology is the need to move true authority to make decisions to the people that have the information. Now, one could argue that this has always been required. For the sake of argument, I’m prepared to stipulate that that is indeed the case. The shift is that it used to be the leaders, the executives that had the information. The workers would simply send their needs up the chain to where the information resided and a decision along with detailed directions would come back down – maybe. This process is and was very inefficient and inherently inaccurate. We all know the game of “telephone” where a message is whispered from one person to the next. By the time the message makes its rounds back to the originator it is nothing like the original message.

Technology has made sure that we do not have time to play that game  any longer. The information about the customer, product, service and/or market changes resides everywhere now. It is easily available to your employees, your competitors and of course to you. And, by the way, detailed information about you, your product or service, and how other customers like or dislike it is available to your customers also. They no longer depend on you to give them information. What that means is that you must now shift the authority to make decisions not upward to management, but rather out to all the “front line” employees who are closest to the information as it is made available. We no longer have the luxury of time for information to move to authority. (Click on the image above for an enlarged view of a simplified information flow.)

I’m confident that if you think this through you will come to that same conclusion; we must move authority to the information if we intend to compete in the marketplace. And I’m also confident that you will be uncomfortable actually doing this and will imagine that there are a whole host of concerns. It is never easy to give up control. And you would be correct. And you would also be a major source of alleviating those concerns. Here’s what you might instinctively suspect: your employees have not been taught to think and lead, they’ve largely been trained to simply follow directions. So to do what you have to do to survive and thrive, you will have to make sure that the values of the organization are clearly understood so that as decisions are made, they match those values. It goes without saying that you must also make sure that your folks have all the tools and technical competencies required.

The Ritz Carlton has moved authority, leadership and decisions to where the information is. It is my understanding from a presentation made by Jeff Hargett, Sr. Corporate Director at the Ritz Carlton, that each one of their Ladies and Gentlemen (never just people or employees) have the unquestioned authority to solve any patron’s (also referred to as Ladies and Gentlemen) issues on the spot. They have up to $2,000 per patron per day to make sure the Ritz experience is superior. The interesting thing is, this privilege is not abused. Indeed, their motto rings true: Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen.

What are you doing to make sure your employees have a chance at mastery, enjoy autonomy and have clarity of purpose? What are you doing to move authority to where the information is instead of wasting time and energy moving information to decision makers?