Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business

Image of Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business
Release Date: 
September 13, 2010
Harvard Business Review Press
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If there’s one thing that doesn’t quite compute, it’s reading about the nation’s dysfunctional economy while one of the greatest business resources of our time–the Internet–is changing the nature of work, markets, and producer-customer relationships.

Of course, if you’re one of those folks who wondered what was so special about color TV when your black-and-white worked just fine, then Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler’s Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business may mean little to you. After all, it is one more snow crystal in the avalanche of books being published about the power of the Internet.

However, unlike many of these breathless, often evangelical works, Empowered has been written by adults who convey their perceptions in a systematic way. (Is it just me, or do many books about the web seem as if they were penned during a break from “FarmVille”?)

Bernoff and Schadler, both of Forrester Research, note the fundamental ways the web equalizes the power between providers and customers—perhaps giving the edge to the customer when it comes to mass markets versus companies that need to protect their reputations.

The authors’ big idea is that marketing is no longer about getting the customer to buy your product and then handing her off to customer service. The sale is just the beginning of the relationship with the customer.

Why? Because consumers today have enormous power to influence and complain through such web tools as Twitter, blogs, chat rooms, specific website product reviews, and ratings sites like Yelp. Companies, if they quickly monitor and resolve such customers’ reactions, can turn possible disasters into brand and reputation triumphs.

To deal with this groundswell of consumer power, businesses need teams interconnected by communications and purpose, and employees who can take the initiative. Staffers may draw on cheap, easily accessible databases, applications and computational power—often the same ones that customers use. Done properly, companies create innovation, better customer service, and new offers through their own, previously ignored, people.

Therefore, Bernoff and Schadler are most concerned with unleashing employees. We’re not talking about hack attacks against “the man,” but methods that harness creativity on behalf of the customer. The authors argue for lots of experimentation, corporate cultures that value little failures to get the big wins, and a gentle management hand on the innovation tiller.

My one reservation is that business literature has been talking about customer and employee empowerment for . . . how many years? The dream has always sold better than the reality. Is the Web the magic bullet? Doubtful. Company leaders respond to numbers: If they’re bad, things like employee empowerment will be tried and, if successful, become part of the firm’s culture; if not, the next “hot” idea will be trotted out.

But Bernoff and Schadler supply plenty of data, models, and checklists to make their case—as well as the required meta-acronym every business book must billboard: in this case, HERO (Highly Empowered Resourceful Operative).

Corporate VILLAINS (Very Impatient Laggards Longing for the Almighty Internet to Nudge Sales) will appreciate their insights.