Cell Phones Have Dis-empowered Employees

Cell phones have altered our lives and I am not sure for the better.  They are this appendage people take everywhere and allow to interrupt almost everything.  Before cell phones people made do, made decisions and lived with them.

I once was at a conference and we were trying to reach one of the attendees.  We tried finding a cell for her but could not, she later shared with us that her staff does not have her cell number.  She feels that the are or should be competent to make decisions that the organization can live with, and they don’t need to call her for every hiccup.   What a fantastic manager, her employees know the end result, she has pointed them in the direction she wants them to take, but asks them all to use their brain and earn the money they are paid.   Her cell phone is not a micromanagement or control tool.   She is a department head, not an irreplaceable employee.

It makes me think back when I attended the International Customer Service and Help Desk Conference.  All these years later I still have two things left a tote bag and a story told by Tom Peters about a FedEx employee knowing the mission of the company and that it was his mission too.  For those of you who don’t know the story here is the nutshell version:

They had a blizzard in the mountains of California, that took down a telephone line that took the FedEx office out of the loop.  This FedEx location could no longer talk to its customers or offices to get the packages delivered on time.  A FedEx employee, not some president or officer but a regular employee, quickly analyzed the problem and realized that a down phone line was the single problem and that he had the ability to fix it.   Without asking permission of any managers, this regular “Joe” employee  rented a local helicopter using his personal credit card.  This helicopter took him as close as it could get to the down phone line in the mountains, which was still 3/4 of a mile away.  The employee trudged the last 3/4 of a mile in deep snow, repaired the line, trudged back to the helicopter and then flew back to the office and got back to the mission of delivering packages on time.

In today’s world this would likely never have happened, instead it would have been a cluster of cell phone calls that would have resulted in probably inaction.   I am not sure how high it would have had to go up the flag pole before some one felt they had the ability to make a decision to fulfill the company mission.  I am sure that there would have been not just calls up to higher management levels, but to accounting/math types as well.   The true problem  would have got diluted by the involvement of so many people.

Cell phones have taken CYA  and micromanagement to a new level.   Managers leave for vacation saying call me if you need me.   Ten years ago we would have figured out how do without them.   I can’t tell you how many times I have made decisions, shrugged my  shoulders and said if they disagree when the get back “oh well” we will take corrective action then; lost no sleep and moved on.   I never in all my years as a corporate employee had the need to interrupt some one at home that I reported to to get permission to make a decision.  I have left detailed notes for them about it so I wouldn’t forget to tell them when they get back.  I have had a manager and even a director or two raise their eyebrows in the middle of the the rehash, but in the end none of those decisions ever got me fired, put on probation or resulted in something negative in my personnel file.

I understood my company’s mission.   I was hired as an employee to contribute to that mission.   As an employee I was valued for my knowledge and judgment.  Today with the era of never ending communication I am not sure that is true anymore.   Everyone wants to be in the loop.  Everyone wants to be in control. No wonder employee morale is at an all time low.   It isn’t just that they are stressed doing the work that used to be done by two or three employees.   It isn’t just that companies are cutting and laying off even when they are making money, so no one is sure of their job.  It is also that employees no longer feel empowered even in the task they were hired to do.  We all need the feeling of competence and productive work.   We all need to feel valued, and we can’t do it with someone looking over our shoulder as though we might fail at any minute.