Guest Editorial > Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment by William Byham



Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment by William Byham | Robin Webb

Robin Webb combines personal experience and book review to bring us a unique glimpse of the benefits that flow from empowering staff to take responsibility and to excel.

Zapp!  The Lightning of Empowerment by William Byham


I worked for a staff empowered company until my last ten years of working life when the company moved abroad. I then became employed by the N.H.S. I found its culture was a shock I did not expect. There was mismanagement, a blame culture, broken promises and managerial self-protectionism. Sadly, we constantly read and hear of criticism of the N.H.S. in the media today.


I told people of the benefits of working in an empowered organisation, but by persevering I was labelled a nuisance. Empowerment, thoroughly taught, implemented correctly and maintained is the only answer. It must be a determined implementation or empowerment will fail.


In my former company, experts from America came to the U.K. and introduced empowerment.   Management and engineers were asked to read the book that simply and easily explained empowerment in a novel way. It is written as a fable, a fantasy story rather than in a stuffy business style.  Anyone can read it; it’s so easy and quick.


The story unfolds as an engineer in Department N secretly invents a device that allows him to wander in the “12th dimension”, where staff could be observed, not as they normally appeared but as how they felt. Demoralised, disinterested and sapped of any enthusiasm, staff were enshrouded in a dull and dark mist that pervaded the troubled Department N.  However, one department was seen as light and airy, with lightning called Zapp flashing from a supervisor as she imparted motivation and enthusiasm to the workforce in Department Z.  Joe Mode, Department N’s supervisor, accidentally triggers the device and he finds himself in the 12th dimension. Comparing his own department with Department Z he is determined to find out why Department Z is more productive with a happier and motivated people. He eventually succeeds as he learns and understands empowerment. The story concludes when, years later, the whole company becomes an empowered organisation and flourishes.


The story has dragons and trolls that represent problems and poor management styles that frequently demoralise staff. Sadly, unconvinced managers can use the genre as a reason to discredit empowerment.  Self-centred individualism, self-righteousness and self-promoting individuals if allowed to, will cause empowerment to fail.


I made firm friends with one of our American tutors, R. Marcum, and I reproduce his thoughts about empowerment below.  He is a global consultant working out of North Carolina, promoting empowerment and motivation.  He’s worked in China, Japan and Poland and recently in South Korea.


This is what he says about the Zapp philosophy from his personal perspective:


Years ago, I brought something alive in me. Common sense told me I needed to treat people like I wanted to be treated myself. From there, I learned much about motivating people. Applied properly, empowerment as described in the above book, probably doesn’t teach anyone anything they don’t subconsciously already know, but it will bring ways of thinking that makes it a great managerial tool.


Managers and supervisors must care earnestly for their staff, and empower them to go beyond their standard responsibility, to grasp new horizons, and prove to them that they can do anything with encouragement. All staff need to be nurtured. If organisations ignore their staff, it opens a door to negativism; for example, they will do as little as possible.  


All people want to do a good job and take pride in their work. If allowed, they will come out of the “stalemated norm” and start to excel, causing others to want to excel too.


Managers MUST BE SINCERE.  Staff will easily see through insincerity and falsehood. The supervisor must believe what they are saying before trying to implement Zapp.


I have a rule: Spend 5 minutes each day with each employee. This way, you begin to know and care for them, and you get to know how they will react positively to Zapp philosophy. If you don’t communicate with them they become convinced you don’t like them. Most people hold that view.   


I have another rule: Try to find something people do RIGHT and compliment them on it. Don’t look for the bad (they already know when they fail).


Zapp needs to become a tool in the supervisor’s tool box. Follow the book closely and understand what it says. Start small and you will light the fire of enthusiasm. Empowerment generates positive feelings for everyone.


I’ve experienced job satisfaction through empowerment.  It is life enhancing.  In the NHS, empowerment should be introduced fully and properly in every single area and include everyone.  An organisation that fails to develop full staff potential deserves to fail.   This book, described here, written as a fable, explains why and how an organisation can succeed with staff empowerment….



Robin Webb


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Here is a link to the book