Disempowerment Culture

Disempowerment: The reduction of the power, authority, importance or influence that individuals (or groups of organised persons) have to make their own choices and decisions to shape their own lives.
A news story in the UK caught my attention last week – promoted by the shadow Education Secretary (Tristram Hunt) as a new idea for improving the performance of schools. There’s a news story from the BBC here,  but the short version was as follows:

 
“Lots of teachers are rubbish at their jobs, so we should have independent tests for them every two years and fire the ones that don’t pass.”
 
Tristram observes that teachers should have the same professional standing as lawyers and doctors, they should pursue continual professional development to become the best possible teacher, and that they should be passionate and motivated about their subject. 
Let’s focus on the effect such a statement has on any workforce, and how an assessment plan of this type would likely work out.
First of all, the story draws attention to the fact that teachers do not have the same standing as lawyers and doctors. (In the past this was certainly so, with equivalent salaries and respect – but times have moved on, and now teachers are woefully underpaid).
 
It then expresses the opinion that many teachers do not want to be the best they can be, are not passionate about their subjects and do not continue their professional development. 
 
The proposed solution? Add another layer of bureaucracy (and cost) by creating a new central department to create examinations and then test all teachers. Then if they do not pass, fire them.
(Hey teachers, are you feeling good about yourself yet?)
 
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Stop for a moment and consider the effect this would have in your workplace. 
 
If an external, uninvited and unwanted consultant came into your building today and tested every person to see what they had learned in the last year or so, then assessed their passion for the role, and then fired those that didn’t make the grade – how would your performance be affected?
 
I would suggest that you will spend time preparing for the test, and not doing your job. I’d also suggest that you would think twice about joining an organisation that did this, and I would imagine that you’d feel pretty angry about the process.
 
But what about your manager? The role of a manager is to arrange their staff in the most effective way; to mentor and coach where needed, discipline as appropriate and deliver the best results for the company. 
 
In this system, you don’t get to control your own staffing – nor does anyone else in your company. So why bother? The best you can do is coach your staff for the test – but you are not empowered to make any decisions that truly matter.
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The people working at your company are trying to do their jobs well. No matter what the level of the employee they are trying to the best possible job within the constraints you set. 
 
Nobody comes to work to be mediocre. But if you promote a culture which continuously reinforces a lack of trust, you will drive your employees to behave poorly, remove their ability to innovate and devalue their contributions to your organisation.
 
If your goal is to promote a culture of continuous learning and self-improvement, provide the opportunity to so in practical ways. Make time and resource available – reward that behaviour with compensation and recognition. 
 
Should you wish for more demonstrable and visible passion, then provide the opportunity for those interested to take acting and improvisation classes to help engage those around them.
 
If you want people to work more effectively and be better engaged – let them do their job, listen to them, support their needs. Trust that they will perform to the best of their ability if you give them the chance.
 
 
A longer description of the proposed policy is here in Tristrams’ own words. He talks at greater length about making space for learning, especially in under performing schools which have less time for professional development.
 
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