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on November 19, 2015
Empowering your audience. Instead of spending marketing dollars to advertise, spending it on wowing the customer and coming up with ways to help them get involved and spread word of mouth. What's in it for them?
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on September 25, 2012
Another one of those books that you read once and can give away. Nothing you can't read on a blog.
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on May 24, 2011
I typically shun the "empowerment" genre. Historically they have been full of fluff and self-promotion. However, a work colleague from the IT group gave it to me and commented that it was worth the read--perhaps even practical. On this note, I couldn't resist and wasn't disappointed... other than the length and regurgitation of their research.

What is the underlying principle of empowerment? Quote from Bill Gates "The vision is really about empowering workers, giving the ALL THE INFORMATION about what's going on so they can do a lot more than they've done in the past." Yes; the principle of empowerment in a single sentence!

Those worthy of being empowered? HEROes or "Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives". HEROes are made, which carries risk as an owner/manager that is ultimately accountable for the actions of their staff. However, the resulting rewards are deemed worthy of the risk.

EMPOWERED hits on the failure of other empowerment initiatives. In a nutshell, these programs regularly fail since we are enslaved to being unable to accomplish a task without first obtaining permission or information. Why? Normal command and control structures within organization limit the ability of staff to "commit" the organization ($ or resources or time). However, each time someone needs to ask permission for something they already know the anwswer, but are unauthorized, the supervisor's time is consumed. It doesn't need to be this way; knowledge workers especially should be granted more latitude.

From another book, "4-Hour Work Week" by Timothy Ferris, I like his summary in this regard: "For the employee, the goal is to HAVE full access to necessary information and as much independent decision-making ability as possible. For the entrepreneur, the goal is to GRANT as much information and independent deicision-making ability to employees and contractors as possible."The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated: Expanded and Updated, With Over 100 New Pages of Cutting-Edge Content.

EMPOWERED does a great job is showing HOW to execute EMPOWERMENT, albeit using some very lengthy examples (the book could have been atleast 100 pages shorter... I see that Ted Schadler is with Forrester, an IT research company; I guess they felt compelled to prove their "thesis" or perhaps indirectly thank their customers by quoting them in their book).

The EVE (Effort-Value Evaluation) tool, also located on their website [...], is a practical tool for evaluating projects that are raised by HEROes. I am fortunate to have one of our company's HEROes building this into XLS to allow multiple projects raised to be graphed. Great tool given competing projects for $$$ and resources.

Skip forward to the POST method for building strategies/execution plans for applications/tools. The book uses "Mobile Strategy" to demostrate the template: P for people. Examine your customers or employees mobile behaviors. Check website traffic; O for objectives. Determine how you and them will benefit. Increase sales, decrease costs,increase loyalty; S for strategies. Whats the long term plan for your mobile app? T for technology. What types of mobile apps are you building? Text messaging, mobile sites, apps?

I know I give the authors grief on the overload on examples, but there are snippets (and I stress snips) of good ideas... ones that can be augmented with your own situation. Some of the survey data, such as those statistics provided on "Do-It-Yourself" technology used by employees within a company. Hilarious! But true. I really like "reclaimed server" that was hooked up under an employee's desk.

More practical action items for improving "culture" for HEROes and their readiness: (1) To help employees feel like owners/empowered MUST improve leadership and management. Heroes want to create solutions. Therefore, align management and culture with heroes. [This is self-evident; but as a senior executive, need to really ask the tough question: "Do we have the right managers on the bus?"] (2) To help workers act/feel resourceful, support them with technology. Heroes need help. They need access to technology, not locked down systems. They need tools to collaborate, support from IT, guardrails to keep their solutions safe and systems that spread their success across the organization. [In a highly centralized IT company, this can be painful. The authors recommend building "joint councils" but this sounds like more bureaucracy.]

They stated that leading HEROes is hard. While you have to give up central control of technology, you must also lead your heroes soon they contribute to the business. Hence the contradiction! This is where John Hunt's book "Art of the Idea" comes into play: "IDEAS DO NOT TRAVEL WELL THROUGH BUREAUCRACY. It is correct and essential to question everything, but when that questioning leads to ever widening circles of endless debate, the game is over. Layers of decision-making institutionalize procrastination and often elevate it to an art form. It might be meticulously and precisely recorded, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a waste of time." Classic quote Art of the Idea: And How It Can Change Your Life. Depending on the project and the inherent risk, it may be best "Act first. Apologize second."

In supporting your HEROes, you need to build a HERO-powered business that embraces innovation... HEROes will naturally generate ideas, but can the organization prioritize quickly and move to implementation just as fast? The authors stress three elements: (1) SPEED--act quickly on ideas or your HEROes will just give up and go back to their old jobs; (2) Gather FEEDBACK from across the organization--the best ideas cross thru the organization--generate discussion and traffic; (3) SOFTWARE to support innovation--SharePoint, Imaginatik, Yammer, InnovationSpigit

This last point gave rise to an excellent graph: "INFORMATION WORKPLACE" which diagrams the components of an integrated toolkit for employees. However, the authors stressed that collaboration/innovation programs need two things: (1) Unique leader behind the program (ie. change agent, won't listen to "no", driven to challenge the existing order); (2) Other HEROes to knit together varied systems--must be scaleable and boundaryless.

The authors also identified the current anchor technologies that have and will continue to power most HERO projects: (1) Deployment of business analytics to make sense of all the new operations/customer/financial information; (2) Master mobile technologies to build mobile apps; (3) Choose social technology platforms to support customer and employee communities; (4) Build cloud apps to link internal security and data systems to cloud services; (5) Manage security as a business service.
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Many years ago, Southwest Airlines' then chairman and CEO, Herb Kelleher, explained his company's competitive advantage: "Our people. We take really good care of them, they take really good care of our customers, and then our customers take really good care of our shareholders." I recalled those comments as I began to read this book in which Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler explain how to create what Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba characterize as "customer evangelists" by first creating "highly empowered and resourceful operatives: HEROes for short."

To a much greater extent than at any prior time that I can recall, customers today are self-directed, and, yes, self-empowered. They have instant access to more and better sources of information about just anything they may be thinking about purchasing. Moreover, they have more and better choices re when, where, and how to make a purchase. It is imperative, therefore, that everyone who interacts with a customer be empowered (i.e. have the authority) to make whatever decision and/or take whatever action may be necessary to solve a customer's problem or in some other way provide whatever assistance a customer may need.

Bernoff and Schadler make brilliant use of various reader-friendly devices, such as Tables, Figures, mini-case studies, and bullet point checklists. For example, Table 1-1 (on Page 13) illustrates how "the forces in the groundswell power shift apply in the marketplace and the workplace in terms of (a) groundswell technology trends (e.g. smart mobile devices), how customers are empowered by it (e.g. get information about products and share it regardless of location), how to serve customers with it (e.g. create mobile applications to provide information to cust9mers), and how workers benefit from it (e.g. collaborate with colleagues and partners from any location). Mini-case studies include those of Best Buy (Pages 7-11), Black & Decker (21-23), Thomson Reuters (31-34), Ford (46-50), Intuit (63-68), Zappos (68-71), the NFL Philadelphia Eagles (85-88), NHL (105-107), Sunbelt Rentals (141-142), and IBM Blue (166-169).

Most of the material in this book consists of information, insights, and advice that, Bernoff and Schadler fervently hope, will help business leaders to empower employees, to develop and then support HERoes. In most of the organizations with which I have been associated, however, senior-level executives tend not to see themselves as "employees"; moreover, they are reluctant to empower those whom they do view as employees. (I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard one of them refer to non-executives as "them.") Of course, as they clearly indicate in their book, Bernoff and Schadler fully understand how difficult it will be for many of their readers to become change agents in a company "at the start of the journey toward empowering [its] HERoes."

What to do? Here is what they suggest: "First, spend some time learning how mobile, video, cloud, and social technologies work...Second, don't just identify customer problems, imagine solutions...Third, reach out to people who can help...Fourth, build a plan [such as the Effort-Value Evaluation in Chapter 2]...If your project affects customers or employees, you'll generally need some management approval - but you'll have to balance the need to get approvals higher up in the organization with the ability to get started."

I presume to conclude this review with two observations of my own. First, all organizations (whatever their size and nature may be) need HEROes at all levels and in all areas of operation, including the C-Suite of course but also on the shop floor, in the back office, etc. Second, presumably Bernoff and Schadler agree with me that there are certain work environments that have become so stagnant, perhaps corrupt and even toxic, that they cannot be re-energized. Those associated with such a workplace who have performed "HEROically" (or who aspire to do so) would be well-advised to explore opportunities elsewhere. I have yet to encounter an organization that has too many "highly empowered and resourceful operatives." There is always room for one more.
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