Some mistakes managers make at the start of a visual conversion are serious and hard to repair. For example, when managers decide to commandeer for themselves the task of implementing the visual where—or simply order it into existence. Either way, this is the damaging loss of an opportunity of inestimable value. Keep your eye on the ball, managers. Stay focused on the three outcomes I discuss in this series. We considered the first in the last issue: Crack the code on time so Improvement Time can draw breath in your company and grow. This week, we look at the importance of breaking the lock that command-and-control has on the work culture—and how to liberate the power in empowerment.

Outcome 2. Empower the Value-Add Level Through Workplace Visuality

Many of us think we know the meaning of empowerment—respect individuals, let operators own their work, promote creativity, seek inputs from the value-add level. We celebrate any company that implements these concepts. No doubt about it: Empowerment is an abiding principle of operational excellence. You can’t get to world-class without it.

Yet I would invite you to take a closer look at the term. Notice that smack-dab-in-the-middle of it is the word power. In my book (and across three decades of implementing visuality), empowerment means a fair bit more than the concepts named above. To have power not only means to have control but to have constant access to the source of that power.

Yes, the will is easy to access it—if it is yours. But it is harder than heck to access if it is not. Corporations face this. “Who gets to own the will of the individuals who work for us?” asks the Big Giant Head. The BGH answers quickly and with precision: “I do! Because I pay for the body that houses that will to work here, eight to ten hours a day. By gum, that will is mine.” Yes, a command-and-control company uses fear to get the will to submit and be “owned” by the outside. But that same company forgets that the will is the keeper of the treasure—but not the treasure itself, the power within. While the will may succumb to fear (“I need this job to pay my mortgage”), fear cannot gain the company access to that power. That power can never be taken. It can only be shared—by an act of the will.The power at the center of empowerment is the power within—within people, within each person, each individual. That power is not the same as the will, but the will gets to decide how that power gets used. This is not a complex dynamic but it is a vital one. Each of us has a will—sometime fierce, sometimes gentle but always ours. Our will is the source of our decisions. We call it deciding. Each of us gets to decide the right use of our power, the right use of the will. In workplace visuality, I call this the power of the I—the engine that creates a workplace that speaks. At its core, the visual workplace is a language that comprehensively imbeds the operational details of our work, I-Driven, through visual devices.

Empowerment happen naturally when the conditions for power to express itself are already in place. In their absence, these need to be cultivated by design—by corporate intent. That starts by respecting the human will and then taking specific steps to strengthen it. Culturally speaking, creating an empowered workforce is one of two core visual workplace goals. (The other is extraordinary bottom-line results.) We already know the power of the individual is deeply imbedded in the visual workplace methodology–specifically in the two questions that drive it: What do I need to know and what do I need to share. Whether CEO or value-add associate, these two driving questions have never once, in the past 30 years of my work, failed to deliver. Deliver what: The power inside the individual.

Here we are looking at the paradox of the ONE: the balance point of the individual within the whole, one of the constants evolving across the world of work today. It is always about the ONE—whether that one is the individual or that one is the whole. Companies that are inspired to work through this mystery come out the other side with power that is shared and that has multiplied through that sharing—a reward of inestimable value. Let the workplace speak!

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