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Empowering Employees through a Permeated Leadership Model

Gone are the days of a one-person show and a larger-than-life hero who single handedly saves the day. What matters in today's world (both corporate and societal) is enduring success rather than one-time triumphs. Success is achieved by intrinsically motivating teams and communities, not just one person or a leader. This means that a leader's role is changing from the conventional, motivation-building model to a more involved role — in other words, a decentralized and a permeated leadership model that creates a more collaborative and unencumbered environment for teams to function.

In a permeated leadership model, teams have a clear understanding of broader goals and objectives and have the ability to own them. Ultimately, these teams are responsible for developing plans and executing strategies to successfully reach their goals.

When a team member owns an objective, they become more deeply invested. Having the freedom to make decisions within the guidelines of the organization gives them a sense of authority, which also makes them more responsible for their actions. Rather than simply being a passive contributor, they step up and become leaders driving goals to completion.

Using examples of how we’ve incorporated this model at EPAM, these five best practices highlight how leaders can employ the permeated leadership approach.

1. Identify the right (sometimes hidden) talent and help nurture it. At EPAM India, enriching the employee experience is a key organizational goal, and one of the stakeholders responsible for achieving this goal is our facilities team. Recently, this team underwent a complete overhaul in how responsibilities and workload were assigned. They conducted an in-depth analysis of each team member’s work and their strengths were used to redefine and customize roles for each employee. Additionally, we reduced the approval process – only critical items are addressed while daily activities and processes are approved at each member’s level. Through this shift, the facilities team felt empowered and we saw a significant positive spike in productivity and morale among employees. In the last quarter alone, the team has introduced a host of benefits and processes, including making our cafeteria operations completely digital.

Learning. It’s not enough for a leader to know the end objective – it’s important for the entire team to understand the goal and who can play each part to achieve the right results.

2. Set and communicate clear goals, but don't dictate the method. At EPAM, every team evaluates how their roles contribute to the greater organizational goals and sets a plan and bi-weekly targets to help achieve the end goal. Every employee’s progress is tracked and monitored using agile methodology and a sprint-task approach. This workflow allows every EPAMer to not just assume responsibility of the goal, but also define how they want to work toward it and track how their daily work is helping the greater company.

Learning: It’s vital to understand that different people have different working styles. No method is necessarily right or wrong. It's important to provide guidance when needed, but not dictate the “right” way of working.

3. Create a free space to work and make decisions. In our agile environment, every EPAM employee sets their goals and decides how they want to approach their tasks. If an employee is facing an obstacle or a challenge, a team leader can step in to advise or provide guidance on the possible solution. By tracking progress against the organizational goals, employees feel a sense of belonging and contribution to the larger objective.

Learning: Leaders must empower their team to try different strategies. “Learning by doing” is often the best way and employees learn best by building work plans and trying to solve challenges on their own. However, in critical situations, employees should feel the support and backing of their leader and the team at large.

4. Nurture future leaders. The Socrates methodology of training is one of my trusted ways of nurturing my team and helping them grow. In situations where my team is at a roadblock or facing a challenge, I ask them questions instead of outright presenting solutions. The idea is to guide them to find the solution at their own pace. In some cases, I play the devil’s advocate to ensure that the team has arrived at the solution after considering all possible perspectives and options. The fact that they find the solution by themselves bolsters confidence, which in turn increases their investment in implementing that solution.

Learning: Leaders must inspire both self-confidence and confidence in leadership. When this happens, employees learn how to fearlessly solve problems and eventually become a more effective strategist and leader.

5. Recognize the efforts of the team. Building a culture of appreciation is a key factor in any organization’s growth. At EPAM, we have a digital tool that is purely focused on appreciating colleagues and team members. Our Heroes Portal features badges that employees and leaders can award to people throughout the organization. In the context of recognizing the efforts of the team, leaders have a special badge so that they can express how impressed they have been with their team member’s effort.

Learning: Positive team dynamics are built by supportive guidance and patience. Reaffirming with timely recognition is important for leaders and colleagues.

Today’s workforce is keen to work for organizations that focus on its people and their aspirations. Today’s leaders are expected to think beyond the profit and loss statements and engage with their team. This engagement ranges from how we attract new talent to how we help them grow in the organization and achieve their personal career goals. The permeated leadership model will go a long way in bridging the gap between leaders and their team, all while creating an environment of accountability, where every employee regardless of level or responsibility thrives.