Daily Archives: August 11, 2009

An Employee Empowerment Case Study

Unshackling Employees from a Wall Street Journal Blog talks about ways that even staid industries like the banking industry can take advantage of empowering their employees.

“In most organizations, the decision-making freedoms of frontline employees are highly circumscribed. Sales reps, call center staff, office managers, and assembly line workers are usually trussed up in tangle of top-down policies, “best practices,” and standard operating procedures. Yet it’s impossible to build a highly adaptable organization without first expanding the scope of employee freedom. To create an organization that’s adaptable and innovative, people need the freedom to challenge precedent, to “waste” time, to go outside of channels, to experiment, to take risks and to follow their passions.”

Transparency with business information, the freedom to try new things even with the risk of failure, and a culture that doesn’t require top-down decision making is key to creativity.

Looking at the Familiar and Seeing Something New

You may have noticed that my blog postings have been a little bit sparse lately. Last week I took a “vacation” from my usual computer activities and spent some time down at the beach. This didn’t slow my networking or job search down any, but I made a concrete effort to spend more time reading books (fiction – I am partial to murder mystery/forensic science novels) and getting outside in the sunshine for some fun. This post probably won’t seem like a business related topic at first glance, but in the end I hope you’ll find that it can be applied there as well.

First off, a little background. I’ve been going down to Brunswick County, NC regularly for the last 15 years. Initially I had some friends with a beach house down there who were generous and invited us to stay with them on a regular basis. After many years of that, my family decided it was time to own some rental property down there as well. To say that the area is familiar is an understatement. I know the local restaurants, where the best grocery stores are, and which gas station has the best fresh fish and shrimp. No, I am not kidding about that! They have a marine fuel pump and the fishing boats drop their catch off there daily, but I digress. For years going to the beach always meant – well, going to the beach. Pack up a cooler, bring the bocce set, paddle ball or a football and ride the waves if they were good. We dabbled in golf occasionally since the courses were so good, but it wasn’t an all consuming hobby. We bought kayaks since our place is on the marsh, but that always is tide dependent.

This year, since we’re down to a single salary we decided to take advantage of an unrented week during the summer season. We rarely go down there in the summer – it is too hot and it is too crowded, and we typically have seasonal rentals throughout the high season. The Spring and Fall are much more pleasant and the water still is warm enough for swimming. The off-season is also better for all of those maintenance projects and upkeep necessary for a salt-water exposed structure that gets some pretty heavy rental traffic in the summer. This year was going to be different. My goal was to “pretend” to be on vacation someplace completely new – and I wasn’t going to do any projects around the house either. I always do this when we travel, I decided it was time to do it in more familiar surroundings. What better way to find some undiscovered local gems right?

I started my research a week in advance of our trip. I like hiking so I started looking for parks. I like history and gardens so I also looked for historic sites and colonial homes open to the public. I’m unemployed… so I looked for cheap or free. There would be no ferry rides to Bald Head Island or trips to what used to be the Hard Rock Park (now bankrupt) down in Myrtle Beach, SC, or even to the aquarium at Ft Fischer.

I learned a LOT! I had no idea. Did you know that Brunswick County is incredibly bio-diverse? I didn’t. There are 112 rare plant species in the county – the largest in NC. The preserves that I visited had over 400 distinct vascular plant species. The Nature Conservancy manages over 20,000 acres – in an effort to protect this diversity in the long leaf pine savannas and shrub bog pocosins. I took pictures of numerous carnivorous plants and wild orchids. The venus flytrap only grows natively within a 90 mile radius of Wilmington NC!

I also found out that in North Carolina the first resistance (and complete refusal of compliance) to the British stamp tax occurred in Brunswick County. So much for the Boston Tea Party! Being a Yankee, (damn yankee in some instances) I had not learned a whole lot about the part that North Carolina played in the Revolutionary War. If you’re curious about a huge British defeat early in the war you’ll need to read about the Battle at Moore’s Creek Bridge. Fascinating!

In the span of a week we visited two nature preserves I didn’t know existed (Green Swamp & EV-Henwood), one pre-revolutionary war plantation home and its gardens (Orton Gardens), and the archeological site of the oldest known town in NC (Brunswick Town) which subsequently became a civil war earthen fort (Ft Anderson). We also managed to spend a couple of days on the beach and we did a bit of kayaking.

Ok. By now you are probably wondering where I am going with this. How many times in your life have you blindly gone about your business at work and at home and not bothered to look around you? I’ve been there. Too busy. Too tired. This worked before, so let’s do it again. Sometimes just taking a break and picking your head up to look around let’s you see what you are missing. Sometimes you have to dig a bit harder to figure it out. If you aren’t looking for something new and you’re just milking the old cash cow that your business has, your competition will surprise you and they will make you irrelevant. If you spend your life just doing what needs to be done, one day you’ll wake up and you’ll find that your life has passed you by. Take the time. Find and explore the unique and exciting in your world. You’ll be much richer for it.