I came across a wonderful blog post today from fellow blogger “The HR Capitalist”. I’m a fairly recent reader of his and while I’m much more of a business guy than an HR guy I do like his take on the intersection of HR and business. His post is titled “S**t Steve Jobs says: the Difference between a VP and a Janitor”, and it recites the story of how Steve Jobs apparently introduces responsibility and accountability to his newly minted Vice Presidents at Apple. It really struck a cord with me and provided a vivid reminder of a personal experience when I was working flat out in the corporate world in a successful, fast growing multi-billion dollar telecoms company.
At the time I was an Assistant Vice President, and I was in a room full of other AVP’s, VP’s, and Executive VP’s (we had a pretty good assortment of different levels of VP in that particular company, I seem to recall). There were probably about 25 people in the room and as we discussed some aspect of our overall product or market tactics, someone said something to the effect of “…I don’t know what senior management wants us to do with that. We’ll have to check with ________ about that and see what they want to do…”. Murmurs of agreement bubbled up and the discussion continued. As a fairly newly minted AVP I thought we were shirking our duties somewhat, and so I cleared my throat ever so timidly, and launched off with: “It seems to me that WE ARE SENIOR MANAGEMENT. Why can’t we take this decision and make it happen?”
I didn’t really get an answer from anyone — just a couple of sheepish looks from a couple of my peers, and mostly people just ignoring what I had asked, and unaware (or uncaring) of the irony of a room full of VP types not feeling able to take a fairly basic decision on a straightforward business matter.
It was at that point in my career that it dawned on me that no-one can “empower” anyone else, despite how much we talk about it in current performance management literature. Empowerment is a personal statement, and it ultimately flows from how you are wired internally. And at that particular meeting in that particular company, no one felt empowered to do much of anything, despite the fancy titles all around.
So hats off to Steve Jobs for getting it right with his VP’s…