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