How to Combine Employee Empowerment with Operational Discipline? Gulati's 3P Framework

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How to Combine Employee Empowerment with Operational Discipline? Gulati's 3P Framework
Jaap de Jonge, Editor
According to Professor Ranjay Gulati, executives and managers have trouble resolving the tension between employee empowerment and operational discipline (in short: freedom and control). Freedom refers to trusting employees to think and act independently in behalf of the organization. Such freedom is known to increase organizational commitment, improve organizational performance, and to be conducive to innovation. However, unlimited freedom and/or zero control might be inefficient and impractical.

That's why Gulati suggests a "refinement" of earlier work of Bartlett and Ghoshal, who suggested a model built on an engaging corporate purpose, flexible management processes and an employee development policy. In order to resolve the tension between employee empowerment and operational discipline in a more practical and user-friendly way, he suggests a 3P Framework:

  1. PURPOSE - A single shared goal that sums up the "why" of the organization. It provides direction and meaning to everything the company and its employees do. See also How to Change Towards a Higher Organizational Purpose.
  2. PRIORITIES - Behavioral rules that reflect the organization's goals. The company's strategic interests, enabling employees to act accordingly and focus their time and company's resources properly. See also CSFs and KPIs and MBO.
  3. PRINCIPLES - A simple set of principles growing out the organization's purpose and priorities, and helping employees to choose among reasonable options in their day-to-day work. The principles may include positive guidelines for action as well as limits on certain behavior. It is important that the principles are neither defined too precise (that would prevent employee empowerment), nor should they be formulated so broad that they provide no useful guidance.
The author stresses the importance of periodic reviewing and tweaking the framework components (purpose, priorities and principles) using employee and managerial feedback. This connects it to practice and legitimizes it in the eyes of employees.

Drawback of the framework is it's fragility due to its vulnerability to dissolution and it's tendency - if unattended - to revert to bureaucracy. This should be prevented by conscious maintenance and by spending a lot of energy to keep the 3P's in the focus of both management and the employees, continually redefining, evolving and aligning them with the company's changing needs.
Ranjay Gulati: "Structure that's not Stifling: How to Give your People Essential Direction - Without Shutting them Down" HBR May-June 2018, pp. 70-79
Christopher A. Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal, "Changing the Role of Top Management: Beyond Systems to People", HBR May-June 1995.

3 Ps and Ambidextrous Organization
Joao Paulo Feijoo, Premium Member
This framework fits neatly to the concept of organizational ambidexterity, with the 'freedom' side corresponding to the 'agile' components, the 'control' with the efficient ones, and the 'PPP' pivot delivering the required balance and compromise between the former two.
For further reference: Wikipedia and HBR. 3-8-2018

Empowerment versus Discipline
Henry Velasquez, Member
Discipline and empowerment have been two important points to contrast in several studies. But the reality is: empowerment is not successful without discipline (more exactly SELF-discipline). Gulati's final 3 Ps can be helpful to build that pad to achieve the best results for the organization and for the team members' development and growth. 3-8-2018

Too Simple Approach
Bernhard Keim, Premium Member
Replace Freedom by Creativity and Control by Coordination and you get a better framework for a viable organisation.
In our times the boundaries of organisations become more and more transparent, kind of blurry. Traditional authoritarian ways to manage a company only worked because the people on top were able to enforce certain types of behaviour.
Beyond the boundaries of an organisation these measures hardly work. There the question for mutual benefits prevails and must be answered on a daily basis, because it his very hard to force our partners to act the way we want them to act.
Therefore communication with partners is king. It helps to gain a better understanding why we act and have to act together. Inside an organisation this mutual respect, open mindedness, communication is often missing and causes troubles that managers try to overcome by ordered discipline, aka bureaucracy. But the meaning of bureaucracy is primarily bureaucracy, not change. 3-8-2018

Innate Ability and Outside Control
Alan, Member
Freedom and control are both important to motivate employees and run a company.
In my opinion, freedom is more like an innate ability that has both good and bad influences on an operating enterprise. Discipline is something that limits the freedom to take advantage of freedom. So I think 3P method can be illustrated in this way: Purpose, priorities, principles make it more effective to apply operational discipline. 3-8-2018

Struggling with Empowerment vs. Control
Jaap de Jonge, Editor
I guess we can all see organizations with lots of “white collar” workers, both for profit and non-profit, struggling with this tension between:
  • The new need for high levels of EMPOWERMENT for knowledge workers and innovators, enabling them to respond to quick changes in demands from customers, to diminishing boundaries of @Bernhard Keim, to fierce competition, etc., and
  • The traditional perceived necessity to keep some level of CONTROL over these same employees.
It seems clear that for knowledge workers and innovators, a traditional management-control philosophy does not work well and is often counterproductive.
Some people argue there is no need to control or manage knowledge workers at all. I think that is for most organizations clearly "a bridge too far". For those orgs, the process which Gulati suggests of defining and periodically reviewing and tweaking the mentioned 3 Ps (using employee and managerial feedback) is one helpful tool to guide such employees towards desired behavior, actions and results in a modern and nice way. 3-8-2018

Redefine Control
Dr. Remenyi, Member
In my work as a consultant the companies I consulted have found it necessary to redefine the usual concepts of control and trust. So far, control has allways been an instrument that implied a certain amount of mistrust on the side of the manager towards the employee. Even if it was otherwise, this is how it was often perceived by the employees.
Trust, however, is the defintion of a relationship and not a one-way-street. We demand a lot of trust from our employees and they need our trust, too. So, the solution is building a culture of trust where trust and control are not in contradiction but rather complement each other if used correctly. In this concept it is not the manager who controls the employee, but both of them controlling the progress of the project together. Instead of facing each other, they join their competencies side by side to face the task at hand. Sessions should be planned regularly. Try it! 5-8-2018

Gulati's 3P Model Requires Good Organizational Ethos
Kappagomtula CL, Member
Ranjay Gulati's 3P model success depends upon the fineness with which the fulcrum (Ed:~ center) of the balance is designed. Employee empowerment comes into play in organizations that have employees with good motivational levels, commitment, and efficiency in their work throughput. In such case organizational control is only needed to keep a 'check' in case of any catastrophic contingency which shall be very rare.
For the 3P model of Ranjay to succeed, the organization must function as per the tenets of their Standard Operational Procedures (SOP) in all areas of its functionality and both leadership and employees have to be involved and committed. 5-8-2018

Aspects of Balance Freedom <> Control
Jayaram, Member
Most organisations seem to have missed the balance of Gulati.
My experience is that most of the time the ego of superior defeats the empowerment to an employee (or 'subordinate"). There are several more aspects to it, like the pressure to perform and fear of failure.
I’ve seen this especially in the Indian contest.
I have seen multi national corporations aboard where the described freedom is truly applied and balanced with some control. 5-8-2018

Focus on the Freedom and Control that is Needed
Patric Siesing, Member
I think that what is needed should guide the solution:
  • What is the control about? What is really needed? Not what is wanted.
  • Same approach to freedom. What is the freedom about. What is needed? Not what is wanted.

Empowerment Must Emphasize Discipline
Armando Aramayo, Member
If the rules are clear and everyone knows that they must be followed, empowering certain people is an extraordinary element for competitiveness. That power must be clearly defined but, at the same time, be flexible in order to allow the person to be creative and grow in the ability to manage situations. 5-8-2018

Employee Empowerment versus Operational Discipline
Fredrick Odenge, Member
It is a wonderful thing to empower employees in any organization. This gives them freedom to execute their mandate. However, empowerment of employees calls for discipline (operational) on the part of the employees.
This discipline lacks in most employees, thus calling for control measures of some kind to ensure productivity. I'm looking forward to a time when all employees will feel obliged to operate without being watched over, and without looking over their shoulders to see if their supervisors are around or not. 7-8-2018

Follow the Golden Rules
Bernhard Keim, Premium Member
@Fredrick Odenge: Follow the 1st Golden Rule: "Treat others at least as good as you want to be treated by them". And the 2nd quite simple rule to stick to is: "Don't do evil".
Funny enough, many people have this sense of moral, but quite often it is overwritten by the requirements of the organisation to achieve some short term results.
These rules will only succeed on the long term if the vision of the organisation is clear and the mission is broken down to employees duties. Nobody can claim to be moral if he does not follow these 2 simple rules. If there is no moral in business, it will start to stall. 7-8-2018

Cultural Biases in Empowerment versus Discipline
Patric Siesing, Member
Well, it also depends on the culture. My point of departure is Swedish. Where it is not easy to fire people and where the unions have leverage. It is also very much less hierachical. Management are seen as collegues with some powers rather than omnipotent power. That indicates that my understanding differs because of my cultural context. That of course affects the solutions I and others propose and how we view this issue.
Editor: Certainly… Geert Hofstede would be proud of you. His first 4 "cultural dimensions" are all related to the topic at hand. 8-8-2018

Empowerment versus Control for Millennials
Josephat Olwal Ngesah, Member
What you all have said is true. Our organizations are-not straight jackets (ed: ~restraining clothing for people who may cause harm to themselves or others). However, we are now living in interesting times driven by technology. As a modern day leader and manager you are subjected to a breed of employees that has the genes of dynamism that you may not easily control, aka millennials. They are more empowered by the environment than by rules and procedures. My word of caution however is, freedom must accompanied by responsibility. This is what we must make clear to those employees. 14-8-2018


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