empowered employees

The Harvard Business Review’s Scott Berinato had an interview with Josh Bernoff, coauthor of a new book called Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, Transform Your Business

We think this a great read and a wonderful piece to transform your thinking about your customers, employees, and how to empower your employees to make collective, positive changes. We wanted to share!

Now Josh has coauthored a new book called Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, Transform Your Business. Welcome, Josh.

JOSH BERNOFF: Hi. It’s great to be with you.


SCOTT BERINATO: Josh, your previous book Groundswell is a great book. And it took us on a real time tour of how customers were transforming the business landscape through social media. So where does Empowered take us now?

JOSH BERNOFF: Well, the trend that we looked at in Groundswell has only gotten more intense. And now, with the advent of mobile technologies and video, with the cloud as well as social, you’re in an environment where customers have an unprecedented amount of power to really take their impressions of the brand and spread them far and wide.

So Empowered starts with the thesis that the only way that companies can deal with this is to empower their own employees to use the same technologies to build solutions for those customers. And this is happening out there. People are doing this. But for companies to say, all right, everybody can use technology. Build stuff. Let us know how it comes out. That’s not really comfortable for companies that are used to locking down technology and managing things pretty tightly.

you have an acronym for these guys, HEROes, which I believe stands Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives. 

SCOTT BERINATO: So the Empowered employees– and you have an acronym for these guys, HEROes, which I believe stands Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives. Are you suggesting all employees become empowered and resourceful, and start fighting fire with fire?

JOSH BERNOFF: Absolutely not. I mean, we are not advocating chaos here. The other thing to keep in mind is that it takes a fair amount of savviness, and connections, and initiative, and creativity to come up with these solutions. So most of your employees are not really thinking this way yet. And you don’t really want to take them and say, all right, it’s time for you all to innovate.

The point really here is that if you have a customer service person, a salesperson, a marketing person, anybody anywhere in the organization that is able to see, hey, we can create our own internal thing like Facebook. Or we could use video as a new way to communicate with customers. That that sort of innovation spark has to be nurtured and not snuffed. You know, hey, we don’t do that. You’re not allowed to do that. Sorry. Go back to doing your job.

SCOTT BERINATO: Are these HEROes, in fact, the same customers from Groundswell who were taking the internet and starting to do reviews of restaurants and feeling empowered as customers? And now they also happen to work at companies, and they have that same empowerment feeling?

JOSH BERNOFF: That is certainly part of what’s happening. So if you look at the trend here– I mean, anybody who works with computers in their job almost certainly is working with computers and smartphones in their home life, in their personal life. And often, these things start by people saying, hey, couldn’t we do what I saw in Twitter? Couldn’t we use something like Twitter in our own company?

So the impulse to creativity comes from these folks. The other thing is that they own their own devices. Sometimes their own PCs. Often their own smartphones. So corporate attempts to say, you cannot use our technology in certain ways. We’re going to block certain websites, for example.

Come on. Who are you kidding? Right? They’ll just whip out their iPhone and look at it there. So that’s part of what’s happening, is they’re immersed in this stuff at home. And that’s what sparks the idea of how they can use it for work purposes.

favorite HERO stories

SCOTT BERINATO: Can you give us an example of one of your favorite HERO stories? One of your favorite case studies of a company that’s really empowered some of their employees and has worked out?

JOSH BERNOFF: Sure. I’ll give you an example that’s from chapter one. We looked at Best Buy. And at Best Buy, they realized that people were complaining sometimes on Twitter, that that was an important channel for them to communicate with their customers. And that it needed more than just a corporate Twitter account, which is what most companies are doing.

So what happened there is, first of all, a guy named Ben Hedrington figured out how to use Twitter so that a whole bunch of people could share one account and one system. So he was a technical guy in the web development group. He spent five nights of his own time building something called, I think Twit Connect to do that.

There’s another guy there named John Bernier. His role was to take this and actually turn it into a system so 2,500, at last count, employees could actually share it. So he was rolling it out and dealing with things like labor laws.

And then you have people like Coral Biegler in the book. She’s a customer service person. And we tell the story of how she actually managed to take somebody who was complaining about the fact that his iPhone had stopped working. And they wanted to replace it with a BlackBerry, and said, no, no, no. You deserve your iPhone And solved his problem and turned him into an advocate instead of a detractor.

So all of these people can do what they can do at Best Buy because the company is run in such a way that sort of initiative is encouraged. And the CMO, Barry Judge, who’s over all of these folks, basically says, look, we’re going to support ideas even if there are half-baked. We’ll roll them out. We’ll fix them. But if you have a creative idea on what we can do to help, then we’re going to definitely do what we can to help you to get that idea to turn into reality.

I can almost hear some of them listening in their car, or on their iPods, or wherever, and saying, all it takes is one overly resourceful operative

SCOTT BERINATO: I’m going to channel our listeners here for second. I can almost hear some of them listening in their car, or on their iPods, or wherever, and saying, all it takes is one overly resourceful operative, one person who’s too empowered to mess this up. To take matters into their own hands and take it too far, or in the wrong direction, or not have the correct support. Do you address that issue in the book of how you balance the control with the empowerment?

JOSH BERNOFF: Well, that’s one of the biggest challenges people have. And the typical reaction has been, well, we’ll lock down the technology so they can’t do this. Well, in addition to shutting off the innovation, that doesn’t work anyway, because of the fact that everybody’s got access to technology now.

So first of all, if you’re going to deal with risk, you have to deal with it through policy. You have to educate your employees. The security perimeter has moved. It’s now in the brains of the employees, not in some system that can be locked down.

As far as management goes, at the center of the book is an idea we call the HERO compact. And that says that everybody has a role they play here. The HERO’s role is to innovate, but to do it in such a way that it serves the business. And the management’s role is to provide support for that, but also to assess the risks associated with it and to find ways to mitigate those risks.

The IT department’s role is to support that innovation with technology, to encourage it, but also to help management to actually assess what those risks are from technology, 

The IT department’s role is to support that innovation with technology, to encourage it, but also to help management to actually assess what those risks are from technology, and to look for places where you can get in real trouble, like legal problems or regulatory problems, and say, all right. We need to set an ironclad rule, that these sorts of things are not permitted by law.

And you’ll find that in 100 cases of people innovating like this, in 95, they’re actually going to benefit the business. And five might be a little questionable. Three of those is not such a big deal. And the other two, well, if you set your management up properly, you can note these things and say, all right, well, we see what the risk is here. And we’re just not going to be able to let you to do this.

SCOTT BERINATO: How much do most IT departments have to change to support HEROes? Are they set up structurally and culturally to enable this HERO mentality?

JOSH BERNOFF: For the most part, IT departments have to change completely. Because what does IT do? Well, they do two things. One is they run technology projects. But those tend to be big, hairy, expensive, difficult projects. And the result is that when something simple comes along, they’re like, oh, we can’t really bother with that. We’re busy on the big database restructuring.

There are also in charge of infrastructure, including safety and security. And so this makes them the department of no. Can I do this? No, that would be dangerous. No, you can’t do that. Or it’ll use resources that we need for other things.

The change here is for the IT group to turn into the department of yes. Yes, we’re going to support this. Yes, we will encourage it. Yes, we will educate you about this. And we’ll also help you to have a good understanding of where the risks are so that you know which things are worth doing and which things aren’t worth doing.

We see in places like Aflac, for example, where the CIO was really powerful in stimulating people within the company to get on board with these new technologies. But that’s really an unusual case. IT needs to become more like the way it runs at Aflac.

how does management have to change to support this culture?

SCOTT BERINATO: So IT has to change pretty much wholesale. What about management? How does management have to change to support this culture?

JOSH BERNOFF: Well management really has a different job here. If you want your employees to be coming up with the innovations– and I think most CEOs would say, I’m sick of coming up with all the best ideas here at the top management, let’s do that– then you really have to do more than just pay lip service to it. You know, the company meeting where you say, we’re going to be an innovative company. Yeah, that doesn’t work so great.

On the other hand, you can do innovation contests. And you also can communicate a lot of encouragement for this by holding up people who have innovated, and by reaching out to customers and showing that that’s something that you will support.

A good example is at Intuit, Scott Cook, who’s the founder of the company– he told me that you can measure how innovative a company is by how hard it is to get something that requires say, $5,000 worth of funding, going. And if it’s really difficult, then the company is not going innovate it.

At Intuit, they’re trying stuff like that all the time. They change the website practically every day, see what happens. And he said, we’re set up to measure success. And if you fail and they learn something, then we consider that a success as well. That’s not how most companies run. But it’s really the way you have to run for innovation to be a part of the company culture.

customer reactions to companies such as Best Buy that have taken on this mentality

SCOTT BERINATO: I imagine in a lot of cases companies that are set up to do this and actually do you do it, customers are sort of surprised and pleased. Can you share some of the customer reactions to companies such as Best Buy that have taken on this mentality?

JOSH BERNOFF: Well, that’s definitely the case, that customers can be pleased and surprised by this. One company that has a relatively poor service reputation is Comcast. And people are amazed when they start carping about Comcast. They go on Twitter and say, my damn modem was supposed to be really fast. And it’s actually pretty slow. Immediately, they’ll get a response from someone who is listening. Says, hey, we heard you were complaining about Comcast. We’d like to help solve your problem.

Woah. This company really is actually trying to help here. It turns detractors into promoters. In one case in the book, we talk about the National Hockey League. There was a woman there who decided to start Tweetups of hockey fans. So this is a gathering of people using Twitter who are excited about something– in this case, the NHL.

And the head of PR at the NHL looked at this and said, if this woman really wants to start this, we have to do everything we can to help her. They supported them with a space, with merchandise. They helped to promoted it. It’s the fan activity. But the idea that the NHL would say not, hey, you’re abusing our brand. But, hey, we want to help. That creates a pretty positive impression of the league.

SCOTT BERINATO: He is Josh Bernoff. The book is called Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, Transform Your Business. It comes out in September. Josh, thank you very much.

source: hbr