The organization has the responsibility to create a work environment which helps fosterthe ability and desire of employees to act in empowered ways. The work organization hasthe responsibility to remove barriers that limit the ability of staff to act in empoweredways.Empowerment DefinedEmployee empowerment is a process whereby: a culture of empowerment is developed;information—in the form of a shared vision, clear goals, boundaries for decision making,and the results of efforts and their impact on the whole—is shared; competency—in theform of training and experience—is developed; resources, or the competency to obtainthem when needed to be effective in their jobs, are provided; and support—in the form ofmentoring, cultural support, and encouragement of risk-taking—is provided.Every employer uses employee empowerment to some extent, though it is often thoughtof as delegation. No organization of more than one person can survive without someemployee empowerment. When the owner of a Mail Boxes, Etc. hires someone to workthe weekends, that person is empowered. When a manager hires an accounting graduateto maintain the departmental ledger, that person is empowered. When the director ofadvertising chooses which slogan should go on the web banner, that person isempowered. In each of these instances the empowered person has been provided with thetraining and experience they need to be effective in their position. Each has theinformation to know how their decisions will impact the larger whole. Each has access tothe resources he or she needs to be effective. And the assumption is that each will besupported in the decisions they make.Empowerment is a process of becoming, not a task or end result in and of itself, Just aswith continuous improvement, no organization is ever done with its empowermentimplementation; no person is ever "completely empowered". Empowerment becomes partof the culture of the organization. Empowering others becomes a transparent act, nobodywithin the organization notices when an act of empowerment is exercised. It may benoticeable in the extreme to outsiders, but, if the implementation effort has beensuccessful, it will be second nature to those accculturated within the organization.Clearly, empowerment is not quick nor easy, except in the case of a newly formedorganization where the leaders understand it and have committed themselves and theorganization to it. Given that this is the case it becomes necessary to demonstrate thebenefits and provide an implementation strategy which builds upon a clear understandingof all that employee empowerment entails.Empowerment Is Also Known As:Employee involvement and participative management are often used to meanempowerment. They are not really interchangeable.Examples of EmpowermentThese are examples of empowerment in action.
• The manager of the Human Resources department added weeks to the process of hiring new employees by requiring his supposedly empowered staff members to obtain his signature on every document related to the hiring of a new employee. When the time problem was brought to his attention, he fostered empowerment by telling employees they no longer needed his signature unless the hire involved extraordinary circumstances. • John empowered himself to discuss the career objectives he wished to pursue with his supervisor. He told his supervisor, frankly, that if the opportunities were not available in his current company, he would move on to another company. • Mary took charge of her career by fueling her sense of empowerment when she developed a career path plan, met with her manager to ask for her assistance to achieve it, and set goals for its accomplishment in her performance development plan. • The companys management style involved sharing the goals, sharing each employees expectations and framework with the employee, and then, getting out of the way while employees were empowered to set goals, accomplish their objectives, and determine how to do their jobs.Empowerment is a desirable management and organizational style that enablesemployees to practice autonomy, control their own jobs, and use their skills and abilitiesto benefit both their organization and themselves.Employee empowerment is a means by which individuals are given the authority toanalyze situations autonomously and take proactive decisions. This instills a sense ofownership towards the company in the employees. This attitude of the employees can goa long way in driving the business forward. I have identified six means of empoweringemployees in a workplace. Let’s take a brief look at them.1. Providing the necessary skills to do the job: Employees can’t do the assigned tasks ifthey don’t have the necessary skills to do it. It is important for an organization to assessthe gaps between the current and required skills. Training must be provided to theemployees to bridge the skills gap. Therefore, if you want an empowered workforce,employees need to be trained in the right skills.2. Granting sufficient authority: The second method of empowering employees is toprovide them adequate authority to decide on how to complete their tasks. They need tobe given the authority to complete the task in any manner they choose to accomplish; aslong as it confirms to the broad guidelines set by the organization. Others in theorganization should be aware that they have not only the responsibility but also theauthority to complete the chosen tasks.3. Articulating the vision of individuals’ job: It is important that employees have aclear idea about the outcome and where their task fits in the overall scheme of things. Itempowers them with a broader perspective of the organization’s overall mission, vision,
goals and strategic plans.4. Providing adequate information and resources: Employees have access to all theinformation they require to make decisions. Therefore supplying information andallocating the required resources empower the employees to perform better in their job.5. Building employees’ confidence: According to the expectancy theory, if employeesbelieve that they CAN achieve a certain result, they are more likely to be successful indoing the same. The various ways to boost employees’ confidence include: • a) Providing growth opportunities to the employees by giving them more challenging tasks. This demonstrates that you value your employees and their personal development. • b) Exhibiting greater trust and support in the employees’ ability to accomplish a work assignment. • c) Encouraging cross-learning so that employees benefit from each other’s skills and knowledge. • d) Acknowledging and rewarding the employees for their accomplishments.6. Guiding with positive feedback: Providing positive feedback about the tasks doneand guiding employees about best practices gives encouragement to the employees.It alsohelps employees to stay on the right track and develop professionally.Handling a large workforce is a daunting task. However, with empowered employees, itbecomes easier as they work not only towards achieving their individual objectives butalso the organizational goals.Benefits of EmpowermentThat employee empowerment benefits the organizations which implement it effectively iswidely noted in the literature. The popular press accepts the belief of benefit almostwithout question. Thomas Petzinger, in his column "The Front Lines" in the Wall StreetJournal, is a big advocate for empowerment. He writes, "As a society we know the bestway to organize people is freeing them to organize themselves. Why should it be anydifferent in business?" (Petzinger, 1997a, p. B1). Also in the Wall Street Journal, Aeppelasks the rhetorical question, " What better way to tap into workers brains as well as theirbrawn than to encourage them to think on the job, to bring to it a greater sense ofprofessionalism and self-motivation and to feel committed to the companys success?"(Aeppel, 1997, p. 1). Freeman (1998) writing in Inc. about applying Marine Corps valuesin the growing corporate workplace advocates a form of empowerment where training iskey and, within clear missions, risk-taking is rewarded.However, a bunch of business writers jumping on a bandwagon was not sufficient for meto believe that empowerment is beneficial. I wanted evidence and I found it. A number ofwriters cited Kanter (1979) as the source of information about the efficacy of employee
empowerment. Kanter writing about positional power indicates, "Organizational powercan grow, in part, by being shared. . . .By empowering others, a leader does not decreasehis power; instead he may increase it--especially if the whole organization performsbetter." (Kanter, 1979, p. 73). Kanter then uses the logic that, "The productive capacity ofnations, like organizations, grows if the skill base is upgraded. People with the tools,information and support to make more informed decisions and act more quickly can oftenaccomplish more."From an organizational perspective the following pros and cons may be associated withemployee empowerment.Pros of Employee Empowerment • It leads to greater job satisfaction, motivation, increased productivity and reduces the costs. • It also leads to creativity and innovation since the employees have the authority to act on their own. • There is increased efficiency in employees because of increased ownership in their work. • Lesser need of supervision and delegation. • Focus on quality from the level of manufacturing till actual delivery and service of goods. • Employees when empowered become more entrepreneurial and start taking more risks. Greater the risk, greater are the chances to succeed.Cons of Employee EmpowermentAt the individual level employee empowerment means you are an integral component ofthe organization. This may sprout egotism or arrogance in the workers.Apart from disadvantages at the organizational level, there are certain challenges thatemerge at the individual level. Supervisors often complain disgust from the empoweredworkers. The following points go against employee empowerment: • Egotism / arrogance: Worker arrogance can create a big trouble for the supervisors and the managers. There can be problems in delegating. Employees avoid reporting about their work and feedback can be taken negatively. • Security: Since information comes and is shared by all, there are apprehensions about leakage of critical data. • Risk: Creativity and innovation demands a greater risk bearing capacity and there are equal chances of success and failure. Workers often lack the expertise to
execute are enterprise, which can cost big. • Industrial Democracy: Labor unions and workers are empowered and they may misuse the same. Strikes and lock outs become more frequent. Also, labor unions gain insights into management and their functioning and they leak the same.The Credo of an Empowering ManagerLooking for real management advice about people? Your goal is to create a workenvironment in which people are empowered, productive, contributing, and happy. Donthobble them by limiting their tools or information. Trust them to do the right thing. Getout of their way and watch them catch fire.These are the ten most important principles for managing people in a way that reinforcesemployee empowerment, accomplishment, and contribution. These management actionsenable both the people who work with you and the people who report to you to soar.1. Demonstrate That You Value PeopleYour regard for people shines through in all of your actions and words. Your facialexpression, your body language, and your words express what you are thinking about thepeople who report to you. Your goal is to demonstrate your appreciation for each personsunique value. No matter how an employee is performing on his or her current task, yourvalue for the employee as a human being should never falter and always be visible.Share Leadership VisionHelp people feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves and theirindividual job. Do this by making sure they know and have access to the organizationsoverall mission, vision, and strategic plans.3. Share Goals and DirectionShare the most important goals and direction for your group. Where possible, either makeprogress on goals measurable and observable, or ascertain that you have shared yourpicture of a positive outcome with the people responsible for accomplishing the results. Ifyou share a picture and share meaning, you have agreed upon what constitutes asuccessful and acceptable deliverable. Empowered employees can then chart their coursewithout close supervision. •
4. Trust PeopleTrust the intentions of people to do the right thing, make the right decision, and makechoices that, while maybe not exactly what you would decide, still work. Whenemployees receive clear expectations from their manager, they relax and trust you. Theyfocus their energy on accomplishing, not on wondering, worrying, and second-guessing.5. Provide Information for Decision MakingMake certain that you have given people, or made sure that they have access to, all of theinformation they need to make thoughtful decisions.6. Delegate Authority and Impact Opportunities, Not Just More WorkDont just delegate the drudge work; delegate some of the fun stuff, too. You know,delegate the important meetings, the committee memberships that influence productdevelopment and decision making, and the projects that people and customers notice. Theemployee will grow and develop new skills. Your plate will be less full so you canconcentrate on contribution. Your reporting staff will gratefully shine - and so will you.7. Provide Frequent FeedbackProvide frequent feedback so that people know how they are doing. Sometimes, thepurpose of feedback is reward and recognition as well as improvement coaching. Peopledeserve your constructive feedback, too, so they can continue to develop their knowledgeand skills.8. Solve Problems: Dont Pinpoint Problem PeopleWhen a problem occurs, ask what is wrong with the work system that caused the peopleto fail, not what is wrong with the people. Worst case response to problems? Seek toidentify and punish the guilty. (Thank you, Dr. Deming.)9. Listen to Learn and Ask Questions to Provide GuidanceProvide a space in which people will communicate by listening to them and asking themquestions. Guide by asking questions, not by telling grown up people what to do. Peoplegenerally know the right answers if they have the opportunity to produce them. When anemployee brings you a problem to solve, ask, "what do you think you should do to solvethis problem?" Or, ask, "what action steps do you recommend?" Employees candemonstrate what they know and grow in the process. Eventually, you will feelcomfortable telling the employee that he or she need not ask you about similar situations.
You trust their judgment.10. Help Employees Feel Rewarded and Recognized for EmpoweredBehaviorWhen employees feel under-compensated, under-titled for the responsibilities they takeon, under-noticed, under-praised, and under-appreciated, don’t expect results fromemployee empowerment. The basic needs of employees must feel met for employees togive you their discretionary energy, that extra effort that people voluntarily invest inwork. For successful employee empowerment, recognition plays a significant role.Empowerment--Not Synonymous With DelegatingEmployee empowerment means (a) delegating decision-making authority downhierarchical levels in an organization and (b) giving employees the resources, knowledgeand skills necessary to use that authority effectively. Delegating alone does not causeempowerment if the employees who are being given the additional authority are notprepared. Giving employees additional authority and the concomitant responsibilitywithout preparing them actually increases their stress, frustration and dissatisfaction.To feel empowered, employees must have a sense of self-determination, competence,meaning and influence. Employees sense of self-determination is the perception thatthey are free to make choices, and that their actions are not controlled by policies,systems or managerial dictates. Granting autonomy to employees helps them feel a senseof self-determination. The higher employees competence, the more they appreciate andthrive when given autonomy. On the other hand, new employees or employees who needto acquire new skills must develop confidence in their abilities before they feelempowered by that autonomy. A sense of meaning in employees work refers to theextent to which employees believe that their work affects the lives of others eitherdirectly or indirectly. This is not to say that only people working on "life and death"matters feel empowered. As long as employees perceive that doing their job satisfiesimportant needs of internal or external customers, theyll see the meaningfulness of theirwork. Finally, employees must feel like they are able to influence people and events inimportant ways in order to feel empowered.back to the topBe Systematic and ConsistentEffective empowerment involves planning and a long-term commitment. Delegatingmakes just about every list of time management tips, and it absolutely can be an effectiveway for managers to boost their personal productivity. However, effective empowermentis no quick fix. For empowerment to be most effective, the objective for managers andtheir employees must be one of incrementally building the employees competence. Itscounterproductive to dump duties and responsibilities on employees without forethoughtand preparation just to get them off your desk. Employees may see that as
disorganization, poor time management or shirking of duties. It takes careful planning toget a $20K/year staffer to happily accept responsibility for an ever-increasing number ofthe duties of his $50K/year manager!Develop Their Competence and ConfidenceTwo major components of getting subordinates ready to have tasks delegated to them areboosting their knowledge and skill levels and helping them to feel competent. This meansthat managers who want to empower their staff must be trainers. Some of the keys toeffectively teaching adults include (a) telling them what they will be learning and why,(b) providing information and demonstrations, (c) allowing opportunities for practice, and(d) providing feedback on performance.Confidence in ones abilities comes from successful performances, observing othersperform successfully, and encouragement. By having subordinates learn to perform a bigtask one piece at a time, managers can increase their subordinates confidence in theirabilities, which helps them progress toward becoming proficient with the entire task.Having the chance to watch others successfully perform a task also tends to boostconfidence. Hence, having good role models can assist the empowerment process. Wordsof encouragement can increase employees confidence as well, so managers shouldcommend employees progress as they learn.back to the topCommunicate a Clear Vision and GoalsOnce employees have developed the competence and confidence necessary for effectiveempowerment, they need to have a clear sense of leaderships vision and the goals fortheir performance. The vision helps employees understand how and why their work ismeaningful.The best visions are mental pictures of an ideal future state that are vivid, ambitious andexciting. A shared vision helps a team coordinate their efforts, because it unifies teammembers priorities. When your employees understand and embrace your vision, theyrein a good position to spontaneously seize opportunities to do things that bring you closerto the realization of that vision. Promoting that kind of constructive spontaneity is one ofthe major reasons for empowering employees.While a vision can be a rich and complex picture of a desired future state, it also helps toset specific goals en route to that vision. As the October 5 LeaderLetter notes, SMARTgoals tend to lead to the highest levels of performance. • Specific goals actually lead to higher performance than "do your best" as a goal. Vague goals can cause inertia or misdirection. • Measurable goals are an alternative to abstract or intangible goals, and theyre normally expressed in numerical terms (i.e., units to produce) or certain "deliverables." • Goals should also be Aligned with the overall strategy and priorities of the organization in order to avoid conflict or efforts that are counterproductive to the organization.
• Goals should be challenging but Reachable because theyll fail to motivate effort if theres no chance of successfully achieving them. • Finally, a Time limit for accomplishing goals should also be specified.Delegate EffectivelyCompetent and confident employees who know your vision and your goals for theirperformance are ready to accept additional authority. Effective delegation of authoritygives employees a sense that they have the necessary clout and support to do the tasksassigned to them. It also contributes to a sense of autonomy and self-determination. TheOctober 10 LeaderLetter addresses effective delegation. To delegate effectively, youmust … • Have a plan • Define objectives and standards • Specify the range of discretion • Involve subordinates in the delegation process • Clarify performance consequences • Match responsibility and authority • Inform others that delegation has occurred • Evaluate progress and results, and provide consequences • Continue to delegateback to the topIn Summary ...Creating a situation in which employees will feel and act psychologically empowered isvery complex, and it requires a lot of planning and communicating. This is particularlydifficult for managers who have many direct reports or who have difficulty finding timein their schedules to focus on developing their staff. Empowerment requires boostingtheir confidence and competence, and communicating a clear vision and goals. However,the payoffs associated with psychological empowerment justify the time invested.Effective empowerment of your staff can lead to higher levels of customerresponsiveness and innovation, higher levels of employee motivation and satisfaction,lower levels of stress for employees, higher levels of employee skill development, andbetter time management for managers.