What Makes an Enterprise Empowered?

As a dictionary junkie, I’m constantly looking up definitions, and more times than not, I’m satisfied with what Webster, Google, or even Wikipedia tells me is the meaning of something. But the times I’m left wanting more, I spend hours, if not days, wondering what would’ve been better, and how would I have defined that word if it had been up to me?

The definition of empowered is one of these cases.

Google defines empowered as “give the authority or power to do something,” and their definition of enterprise is equally uninspired. “A project or activity that involves many people and is often difficult.”

When I looked at the title of this blog, I realized that both empowered and enterprise are both difficult to define on their own, so how in the world was I to tackle the meaning of the two together?

Madrona Venture Group’s Matt McIlwain recently showed how the definition of the empowered enterprise has “radically shifted” over the years, and that we’re now in the middle of the “empowered enterprise 2.0.” I love McIlwain’s explanation that there’s not really an empowered enterprise—without equally empowered employees.

According to McIlwain, not only is employee empowerment currently “on steroids,” in today’s successful startups this power wasn’t just handed to the employees, they created it themselves through feedback and social media. Two tools that not that long ago were not in existence, and more recently—discouraged, or even not allowed in the workplace. McIlwain writes:

Employees of every stripe are finding and selecting services from document sharing to application testing to HR solutions online or in app stores. When they can start with a free trial or make a simple credit card purchase, employees are empowered to solve their own business problems directly and they are embracing this empowerment in droves. This is the Empowered Enterprise 2.0.

Paul Gainham at Juniper Networks gives another fantastic explanation at what makes an enterprise empowered.

An Empowered Enterprise is an organisation where freedom to exploit the power of technology in creative and innovative ways is engrained.

These are the kinds of definitions I’m looking for. When we think of “empowered” we should be thinking of “freedom,” “power,” “creative,” “innovative,” “radical,” or even “on steroids!”

It’s the “do something” in the original definition that gave me the most trouble, and McIlwain and Gainham both prove that truly empowered enterprises aren’t just doing “something.” They’re helping entire organizations work and build with passion, creativity, and innovation—even agility.

When I looked back at the uninspired nature of the singular definitions of empowered and enterprise, perhaps they are accurate. Maybe it’s only when combining them that you get the enthusiasm, and “radically shifted” nature of not only what makes an enterprise application empowered—but also the employees who created them.

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