Many years ago, Peter Drucher introduced the concept of the ‘manager’s letter’. The concept suggests that individual team members prepare a written outline of the results that they expect to achieve, the resources necessary to achieve the results, any guidelines (e.g. policies/procedures) that they will adhere to and how they expect to be held accountable. They then send this ‘letter’ to their manager.

The purpose behind the ‘letter’ is to encourage empowerment and responsibility to enable people to become more self-directing.

However, empowerment requires a huge change in the mind-set of the manager. It requires a mind-set of, ‘where are we going, what are your goals and how can I help you achieve them?’ Further downstream the mind-set then becomes, ‘how is it going, what progress have you made and how can I help you?’ Essentially, the manager agrees outcomes and deliverables with their staff but then gets out of their way!

This is very different to the mind-set of a traditional manager who believes in ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’ as the only way to get things done. This approach is simply treating people like horses (albeit better smelling ones!) with limited capacity to think and decide for themselves.

The problem is that whatever view we have of people is self-fulfilling, in other words we will produce the evidence to support that view. If we have an enlarged view of human nature and potential, we will gradually find the evidence to support our view until we feel inwardly confirmed and re-informed.

None of this is easy and it takes time and patience. Even if we want to empower our staff they may not want the responsibility. The ‘manager’s letter’ and subsequent agreement may not be set up overnight, it takes a lot of clear thinking, honesty and communication. Managers can start in small ways and have small successes until confidence in the overall concept grows. It can be then applied to larger areas of responsibility. If your people don’t want to write a ‘letter’, containing the elements described earlier, (desired results, responsibility, resources etc.), perhaps you can write it instead and ask them if they understand it and are prepared to commit to it.

It requires a great deal of discipline and consistency, follow through and re-enforcement but the benefits in terms of enhanced productivity and engagement are well worth the effort.