Digital Transformation: Permission vs Empowerment

By Jonathan Feldman

Post 2 of 10 in our weekly series on what we think won’t work for digital organizations and what will.

Permission-based management means employees can’t do anything management hasn’t explicitly approved. Too many organizations still suffer toxic micromanagers to operate this way.

This has grave consequences.

Take employee retention. In the era of instant-introductions through Twitter, perpetual-resume-online through LinkedIn, guess which employees are the first to leave a constraining, toxic environment?

Right! Your very best employees.

Take business agility. A digital, collaborative, agile organization needs employees who are also collaborative and agile. But if every decision must go up and down the chain of command, guess what happens? No agility. Not much inter-employee collaboration.

Command and control may get you (questionable) repeatable results, but innovation and speed to market? Not so much.

Or take decision quality. This is probably the chief rationalization of the toxic micro-manager: HOW DO WE MAKE SURE THE RIGHT THING GETS DONE? Well, it turns out organizations that push decision making to the individuals where the information actually is end up making better decisions.

So the non-digital (or closed or hierarchical, if you prefer) organization is likely to be slow, not very smart, and unable to retain its best employees. On the other hand …

Organizations that have clear shared operating principles and then allow independent operation within those principles (think Southwest Airlines) end up with two benefits: they operate faster and get better, more customer focused results.

And these organizations also attract the very best employees: the ones who are always pushing the envelope. The ones who put forth discretionary effort. The ones who will not give up until the mission goal is achieved. These employees turn out to also be the employees who value the ability to operate independently.

Call it “being digital” or call it being a modern, open organization. But it is clear what won’t work—and what does.

Why is “digital transformation” so important? Because it is about transforming our organizations to mirror the way that society has already gone. 10 years ago, information might take days to be widely understood. Today, Twitter gets the news out before the mainstream media even has it.

If we do not match our organizations with what is already going on in society at large, our organizations will fail. They may not fail today, they may not fail tomorrow, but they will fail.

This is a post in our weekly series on what we think won’t work for digital organizations and what will. Our original tweetstorm listed 10 things. This series takes a deeper dive on those ten things — one per week. If you’d like to come along for the ride, sign up for updates at right. Or, continue the conversation with @ejaxon or @_jfeldman.

Originally published June 30, 2017