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Byham Zapp Empowerment

Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment by William C. Byham, Ph.D.

1. Introduction

Source material:
Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment by William C. Byham, Ph.D. with Jeff Cox,
Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc.: 1988. You can find this book at

Other URLs for Dr. Byham:

To do business in the markets of the early 21st Century, in a global economy, and often against excellent competitors, it is essential to keep working for constant improvement, for what the Japanese call kaizen. This means that in a world-class organization, everybody in the company has to be thinking every day about ways to make the business better in quality, output, costs, sales, and customer satisfaction. In government and other public service organizations as well as in business, there are demands for higher performance.

More and more in years to come, the successful organizations will be the ones best able to apply the creative energy of individuals toward constant improvement. Yet, constant improvement is a value that cannot be imposed upon people. It has to come from the individual. The only way to get people to adopt constant improvement as a way of life in doing daily business is by empowering them.

That is what Zapp! is about. It deals with the basic principles of empowering people, about helping employees take ownership of their jobs so they take personal interest in improving the performance of the organization. Throughout the book, the summarized essence of the book appears on illustrations called “Joe Mode’s Notebook”. These form an outline of the basic principles of empowerment.

2. Synopsis

The book is written in the style of a fable. There are dragons, a knight in shining armor, and lots of interesting people. Ralph Roscoe invents a machine called a Ralpholator. Its most important function is Zapping people into the 12th Dimension where they get to see themselves and others as they really are. The story demonstrates the effectiveness of empowerment techniques, and it shows the power of these methods. Empowerment is not easy and it takes commitment from managers and leaders. With diligent effort, organizations can recreate themselves and redefine their role in the world.

3. The Lightning of Empowerment

Once upon a time, in a magic land called America, there lived a normal guy names Ralph Roscoe. Ralph worked in Department N of the Normal Company in Normalsburg, USA. For years, Normal had been a leading manufacturer of normalators, those amazing devices which are so fundamental to society as we know it. As you might expect, just about everything was normal at Normal, including the understanding of who was normally supposed to do what:

  • Managers did the thinking.
  • Supervisors did the talking.
  • And employees did the doing.

That is the way it had always been – ever since Norman Normal had invented the normalator and founded the company – and so everybody just assumed that was the way it should always be…

The story that follows is all about Ralph’s fantastic invention, the Ralpholator. Ralph helps his boss, Joe Mode, to see how others appear in the 12th Dimension – their true appearance and how they actually interact with others and the business environment. Here, then, is part of Joe Mode’s Notebook, the notes he makes to himself as part of his daily habit of writing things down.

4. Joe Mode’s Notebook – Part One – Situation Normal

(Summary) Joe Mode recognizes all of the problems of business, but he cannot effectively change the behavior of his people or alter their work environment. He is unaware of that which will bring about change and lead to improvement.

Then, Joe Mode travels to the 12th Dimension with Ralph and discovers the Lightning of Zapp. He understands that Zapp is a force that energizes people. Zapp is a key to success for new ideas and programs.

  • They work with Zapp
  • They fail without Zapp

Joe Mode travels again to the 12th Dimension with Ralph and discovers the negative effects of Sapp. He sees that traditional methods of management rob people of their ability to succeed. He also isolates examples of what Zapps people:

  • Responsibility
  • Trust
  • Being listened to
  • Teams
  • Solving problems as a team
  • Praise
  • Recognition for ideas
  • Knowing why you’re important to the organization
  • Flexible controls
  • Direction (clear key result areas, measurements, goals)
  • Knowledge (skills, training, information, goals)
  • Support (approval, coaching, feedback, encouragement)
  • Resources readily available
  • Upward and downward communications

5. Joe Mode’s Notebook – Part Two – Zapping of Department N

(Dr. Byham explains this better and with more detail. Here, however, are basics of Zapp.)

It is easy to Sapp. It is hard to Zapp.

The first three steps to Zapping people…

  • The First step of Zapp: Maintain Self-Esteem
  • The Second step of Zapp: Listen and Respond with Empathy
  • The Third step of Zapp: Ask For Help in Solving Problems (seek ideas, suggestions, and information)


My choices in delegating responsibility:

  • Refer the task to the proper person.
  • Delegate authority to carry out the task and make decisions.
  • Delegate the task without giving decision-making authority, or
  • Keep the task.

With delegation comes the need to set up controls.

  • A boss who overcontrols Sapps his people.
  • A boss who abandons control Sapps his people.
  • A boss who uses situational control Zapps his people.

People only respond negatively to controls when they are inappropriate for the situation.

Sharing responsibility with people does not mean abandoning responsibility. Through Zapp, people gain responsibility in their individual jobs, but I still have the responsibility to…

  • Know what is going on.
  • Set the direction for the department.
  • Make the decisions they can’t.
  • Ensure that people are on course.
  • Offer a guiding hand; open doors to clear the way.
  • Assess performance.
  • Be a smart manager.

Zapp does not guide action; it excites action. To get the job done, I have to channel the action in the right direction. But how?

To channel action, mutually establish the following:

  • Key Result Area – the direction we want to go, such as increased output
  • Measurment – a way to know we’re moving in the right direction, such as number of units shipped
  • Goal – something to tell us if we’re there yet, such as a 10% increase

Studying performance:

  • Constant performance feedback relative to goals keeps the Zapp level high.
  • If possible, people should manage their own feedback system.
  • Changing measurements and goals Zapps people in new direction.

To get maximum Zapp, many people need coaching on how to do their jobs. Here are coaching steps:

  1. Explain purpose and importance of what you are trying to teach.
  2. Explain the process to be used.
  3. Show how it’s done.
  4. Observe while the person practices the process.
  5. Provide immediate and specific feedback (coach again or reinforce success).
  6. Express confidence in the person’s ability to be successful.
  7. Agree on follow-up action.

People learn faster from successes than failures.

Learning more about your job boosts your Zapp!

Use Key Principles to overcome blocks and slippage. From Current Performance… use Key Principles to overcome Defensiveness, Anger, and Mistrust… to achieve Improved Performance.

For Zapp to work, people need:

  • DIRECTION (key result areas, goals, measurements)
  • KNOWLEDGE (skills, training, information, goals)
  • RESOURCES (tools, materials, facilities, money)
  • SUPPORT (approval, coaching, feedback, encouragement)

6. Joe Mode’s Notebook – Part Three – Super-Charged Zapp!

Joe Mode learns that Zapped individuals are even more productive when they are part of semi-autonomous Zapp Teams. Over time, the team works with less and less supervision. Once given its mission, the team becomes largely self-governing and carries the burden of responsibility for accomplishing its goals.

A few things to remember about Zapp Teams:

  • Creating teams spreads Zapp through a group.
  • A Zapped team is more productive than a group of Zapped individuals.
  • The more decisions a team can make, the more Zapp it has.

A few things that boost the voltage of Zapp teams:

  • Give the team a say in who works on the team.
  • Establish a mission for the team.
  • Provide time and places for the team to meet.
  • Provide technical training at “the teachable moment” (hold off training until a person or team encountered a situation where they really needed to learn more).
  • Provide “people” skills for interacting, solving problems, making decisions, and taking action.

Who determines how Zapped (or Sapped) an employee is? In order of importance:

  1. The person’s immediate boss (the group leader).
  2. The other people who affect the person’s job (suppliers, services, support).
  3. Higher management.
  4. The organization and its systems.

By far the most important enZapping influence is the supervisor or manager to whom the employee directly reports.

Management’s role in spreading Zapp:

  1. To protect people from the Sapping things that the company might attempt to put upon them while supporting and encouraging the Zapping things the company can offer.
  2. To be sure that subordinate managers have the skills required to Zapp (and if they don’t, get them into training).
  3. To model Zapp.
  4. To coach subordinate managers in how to use and improve their Zapp skills.
  5. To reward performance resulting from Zapp.

Overall: to create an environment where Zapp can happen.

Fattening the Organization Sapps… Flattening the Organization Zapps! … expanding an organization outward toward new horizons (rather than upward, which makes organizations top-heavy).

Joe Mode’s Three-Step Action Plan for Zapp Rookies:

  1. Read (and re-read) the Notebook!
  2. Get Training in Zapp!
  3. Don’t Stop! Keep Learning!

7. Source

This material is from the book:
Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment by William C. Byham, Ph.D. with Jeff Cox,
Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc.: 1988. You can find this book at