Pin It

March 29, 2017

Exercising Responsible Freedom

By michaelpace on May 15, 2011

Exercising Responsible Freedom

In 2008, I fell in love.  No silly rabbit, not with the man playing the piano or even another woman, but with the phrase “Exercising Responsible Freedom”.  I began to pattern my entire managerial style after this powerful phrase, and believe it is more relevant than ever in today’s Customer Service and Social Business world.

So what is it?

I discovered the phrase in a book by Chip R. Bell & Ron Zemke called Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service.  It’s a great book for the Customer Service Leader who looking for direction that spans both strategic and tactical, combined with real life stories.  (I am not a “Raving Fan” of uber theoretical books like Raving Fans)  Exercising Responsible Freedom is simply knowing the right thing to do, understanding the risk, recognizing your proverbial guardrails, having solid rationale, and most importantly doing something.   Sounds a lot like empowerment, but I rarely choose to use that word anymore.  Here’s why:

Somehow the word empowerment turned into something that you can give to another person, like a magical gift.  Empowerment is like energy, I cannot physically give you mine; it is already resides in you.  If you believe you can actually pass it along, you may be essentially passing over nothing.  However, if we believe empowerment is something that I (your manager) can help unlock within you (associate), we can take the appropriate steps unleash it.  So instead of talking about empowerment, I talk with my reports about how I can help them exercise their responsible freedom, and how they can help their reports exercise theirs.

How do you do it?

  1. R-E-S-P-E-C-T (sock it to me): Have the respect for your associates to treat them like adults.  Far too often, I encounter people leaders who act more like parents than business leaders.  Your associates typically have mortgages, rents, insurance, bills, children, and a whole host of other responsibilities, they can handle more than you think.  If they can’t, you probably need to reassess their future and the time you invest in them.
  2. Paint the Vision: You cannot expect people to know and do the right thing if they do not know what direction you are going.  Describe to your associates what the realistic future looks like, and have conversations (two way) about what it means to them.
  3. Provide the Flexible Guardrails: Talk about what would be going too far, and talk about what is too safe.  Use examples of what is in scope and what should remain out of scope.  In regulated industries, providing this detailed information is critical for wary associates.
  4. Discuss Possible Outcomes: Have a discussion about if something did go wrong.  Develop operating agreements that provide a safe zone for both you and the associate to review lessons learned.  I find myself often saying to people, if you had a good rationale for actions, you will never been in trouble.  But if I asked “why”, and their answer is “I don’t know” or “I just did it”, we will need to talk more.  And don’t forget to talk about the incredible things that can happen if they take the appropriate leap.
  5. Let them know you TRUST them: Just overtly saying to associates, “I trust you to ….”  is amazingly powerful confidence builder.  It reaches them on both a professional and personal level.  See prior post on Trust for more info.

Why it is so important in today’s Customer Service and Social Business world?

It is evident that service and relationship building are key differentiators between similar businesses.  Customer’s expectations are pacing with the speed of technology and process innovation.  If you provide scripted and/or automated responses to customers, they will repay you with the equal amount of passion.  If your social support team is tweeting right out of the traditional public relations handbook, you will most likely anger or disenfranchise your customers.  Same goes for customer service representatives who must use the caller’s full name 3 times in a call.

We need to hire, develop and foster our associates (and our associates’ associates) to think critically, do what they believe is the right thing for the customer, and not feel they have done something wrong by erring on the side of the customer.  When they exercise their responsible freedom, they engage customers on a human level, they build strong relationships, and they have the true opportunity to “WOW” a customer.

Do you help your associates Exercise Responsible Freedom?  Are you with me in jumping off the empowerment bandwagon?  Are you given Responsible Freedom?


Image credit: Mike Caine

About mpace101


  1. […] is how people work and behave.  A strong, articulated, and internalized culture helps individuals exercise responsible freedom. It allows them to make the right decisions for your company, autonomously.  It breeds trust and […]

Speak Your Mind