Co-founder of Matters
Empowerment is the word on everyone’s lips when it comes to talent retention and workplace culture. Yet, the world’s best companies are struggling to retain their most talented employees. What if managers could successfully empower their teams in new ways? Matters, an audacious startup studio based in San Francisco and Paris, decided to find out by conducting a social experiment. As told by Baptiste Manson, cofounder of the company.
It started with 100 dollars. It was 2017 and we had decided as a company to conduct a small social experiment around empowerment. Everyone on the team, from the front desk to the C-suite, was given a modest sum to spend on any task at their own discretion. Then, we launched our own internal collaborative platform, Teamstarter. Strength lies in numbers, so the platform, much like Kickstarter, helped employees to share ideas and collect funds from coworkers. Last, we sat back and watched, a little bit afraid that managers might be the biggest barriers to our experiment. We were about to find out what happens when you set your teams free to share their ideas, rally support, and motivate their coworkers. Here’s what we learned.
LESSON#1: Don’t be blindsided by your own tunnel vision. Focus doesn’t mean success. Empowerment doesn’t mean losing sight of your goals.
Chasing only one target can blind you to other viable alternatives. I once failed to empower an employee and made a poor decision because I was too focused.
The employee in question wanted to experiment with an emerging technology, but I didn’t see how it could make a difference. I said no. The employee eventually left, and became a leader in what is a soon-to-become hot trend.
Letting others experiment means taking a few steps back.
I learned that there is power in saying no, but also power in letting your teams innovate and do what needs to be done. Seemingly contradictory alternatives don’t necessarily need to be tried in different iterations.
Even if an idea doesn’t seem relevant, what matters most is the energy driving the idea.
LESSON #2: It’s ok if empowerment doesn’t lead to tangible results.
It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment.
Carl Friedich Gauss
We must keep in mind that disruptive innovations are often moonshots. Companies with 30x growth, like Apple or Google, regularly chase moonshots. Yet, moonshots are terrifying for many a manger, myself included. We tend to avoid high-risk, high-reward strategies. So we don’t necessarily empower our teams for them.
The role of empowerment isn’t always to drive tangible results. In fact, most often doesn’t. But that’s ok. It’s a journey and our idea is to discover what’s at the end of the road. And bottom-up strategies can help us do that.
LESSON #3: Empowerment drives the best performance
At Matters, when we welcome everyone's input and ideas, we produce work that is aligned with our mission, ultimately delivering the best results. In the end, the market decides on the best proposition, not management.
In 2017, our experiment funded a total of 33 projects. Some projects improve our company image, and some our life at work. But none could have been accomplished without the extra energy from empowerment.
Ultimately, we helped build an association to protect women and children from physical abuse, a website to report sexual harassment, and bought some standing desks for the team.
So managers, when you ask yourself if you should empower and trust your colleagues, the answer is a resounding yes.