Permission to Change - More Than Just Capability


Transitioning People Through Constant Change

Most people inherently have the capability to identify, initiate, and drive change. 

When working in their area of responsibility, they can see ways in which to improve operations and respond to opportunities presented. 

We can provide the education, training, knowledge, tools, and resources needed to build the capability to lead and drive change across the organization. We can enable employees to self-manage, and we can educate them about the guidelines within which they can operate. The guidelines are the principles or guardrails that ensure employees are not hung out to dry when they are asked to drive change.

This capability often wilts and dies because it is not supported or nourished by ‘permission’. The capability needs food and water (sustenance and nourishment) that allows it to grow.

The permission model

When we give employees the power of permission to change, we have a solid base across which we can drive constant change. Organizations that will thrive in the world of constant change are those that innovate, create, experiment, adapt, and have an agile mindset. In order to cultivate that sort of culture, we need a different kind of permission.

Permission must be heard as ‘I trust you to do what you think is right. You don't have to ask me. Please go ahead.’

The Permission Model below shows three elements that provide permission: empowerment, accountability, and delegation. These elements provide engagement, ownership and authority, which result in ‘true’ permission and a workforce that will be innovative, creative, and experimental; a workforce that will learn from mistakes and drive continual change when and where it is most needed.

The Permission Model demonstrates how to foster an organization in which everyone leads and, therefore, builds a winning team.

Permission to Change.jpg


I try to avoid the word ‘empowerment’ because I believe it is a buzzword often used but rarely truly affected. Empowerment should not be something bestowed upon a person as a reward for demonstrating initiative or doing something well. Empowerment should be intrinsic within the organization. Empowerment should be a fundamental principle and it should be core to the organization’s existence.

Empowerment of employees requires a culture of mutual trust and respect 

There has to be a platform for organization-wide collaboration and communication. Knowledge has to be freely shared and readily available. Employees have to be given the skills and capability to act autonomously and be self-managing. They need principles or guardrails to define the boundaries within which they can safely operate.

Empowerment does not come about overnight. Empowerment is a fundamental change in mindset that has to be reinforced constantly with the right incentives and rewards.

Putting on the Ritz

The Ritz-Carlton is one of my favourite examples of true employee empowerment.

The third in a list of 12 service values for the Ritz-Carlton is about empowerment:

I am empowered to create unique, memorable, and personal experiences for our guests.[i]

The longest customer service call

Back in 2012, a customer loyalty team member at Zappos broke the company record for the longest customer service call ever. At Zappos, when you call for support, you don't get rushed off the phone because every customer loyalty team member is empowered to spend as much time as is needed to give the customer a great experience.

Zappos empowers every employee to connect with the customer. With 75% of sales coming from repeat customers, Zappos have a winning formula.


Accountability exists when everyone (managers and employees) deliver what they promise, on time and every time. They hold each other accountable.

When there are failures, mistakes are acknowledged and lessons are learnt. There is no blame or finger pointing. Accountability means that clear goals are agreed and employees are given control over how they meet those goals.

Transparency is required from managers and employees to be able to talk openly and honestly about how things are tracking. There also needs to be mutual trust and respect.

There are benefits from employee accountability. These include:

·      Improved performance

·      More employee participation and collaboration

·      Increased feelings of competency

·      Increased employee commitment to the work

·      More creativity and innovation

·      Higher employee motivation, morale, and job satisfaction.

Accountability results in increased productivity and profitability.


Delegation is easier to say than do. For many managers, it is hard to delegate. There is a fear of losing control, a sense of something not being done as well as if they had done it themselves. There could be a lack of trust in the employees in order to delegate to them.

Delegation is a characteristic of a leader not a manager. 


Advantages of delegation include:

Better decision-making.When decision-making is delegated to those best placed to make the decision (those nearest to the action) the outcome is improved.

Faster decision-making.If decisions have to go up and down a chain of command for permission to act, there is a delay in the decision being made, which could result in lost opportunities or failure to resolve an issue in a timely manner.

 Workload.One person cannot do everything. If a manager does not delegate, their workload will become excessive and they will not be able to focus on the aspects of their role.

Morale.Delegation shows trust and respect, which boosts morale and increases motivation.

Engagement. Increased morale, trust, and respect will result in increased employee engagement, which in turn reduces unwanted attrition.

True delegation is not only directed down in the organization but also up. Everyone should be able to assign decisions and tasks to those best suited to undertake them and achieve faster and improved results.


Providing empowerment and accountability leads to increased employee engagement. According to a 2017 Gallup State of the Global Workplacereport, 85% of employees are not engaged or actively engaged at work.[ii] 

Gallup estimates that the consequence of this global epidemic is approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity. This points to the fact that the way in which employees are being managed and developed is failing. Most businesses today rely on the annual performance review to provide feedback on employee performance and discuss development needs and opportunities.

According to Gallup, ‘The new workforce is looking for things like purpose, opportunities to develop, ongoing conversations, a coach rather than a boss, and a manager who leverages their strengths rather than obsessing over their weaknesses.’

Empowerment and accountability provide purpose and development opportunities as well as focusing on employee strengths and capabilities.


A sense of ownership results from empowerment and delegation. It is well known that Google allows its engineers to spend 20% of their working time on projects that interest them personally. They explore their own ideas and bring new products and services to the organization. Through empowerment and delegation, they take ownership for the outcomes. 


There is a massive difference between an employee who ‘owns’ a piece of work and one who has been coerced into undertaking it. There will not be the same level of energy and enthusiasm about the work. This will result in a decrease in productivity and quality of outcomes.


Allowing delegation to take place and holding employees accountable provides authority. Employee authority can boost innovation and success within organizations. 

Anadigics, a telecommunications component supplier, demonstrates the benefits of providing employees with authority. Back in the 1990s, the $250 million organization realised that its centralised, authoritarian control structure didn't allow it to respond to the increasing speed with which challenges and opportunities where being presented to them.

In 1998, the new CEO Bami Bastani distributed authority to employees on the basis of their capability to respond to market changes and make fast decisions.

Within two years of the distribution of authority, Anadigics’ revenue had doubled and the organization reached sound profitability with quarterly gross margins improving more than 50%.

Game score

If organizations truly want to be innovative, creative, and remain relevant, employees need to be given permission to change.

Empowerment to change, accountability for outcomes, and delegation of work all result in engaged employees with a sense of ownership and the authority to make the critical decisions needed to produce quality products or services and provide customers with an exceptional experience.

This gives employees the permission to be the change they want to see.

Coming Up

More posts on their way over the coming weeks and months, exploring how we need to take a fresh and radical look at organisational change management, and the changes we need to make if we are to thrive.

In the meantime, please subscribe to my posts so you have no fear of missing out!



Karen FerrisComment