Empowerment to the Workers!

26 May
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We’ve been talking about empowerment in a previous blog. Interestingly, empowerment as a management practice gained prominence in the early 80’s. It came about when organizations joined the trend toward flattening their departments’ top down structures of reporting. Empowerment differs from the process of simple delegation (which gives fairly specific task assignments), in that it allows more of a climate of passionate engagement and promotes decision-making among a wider span of control. It fosters an atmosphere where the lower level employee can bring their expertise, experience, and passion to a task or objective.

A good example to clarify where I am coming from with regard to the difference between delegation and empowerment is looking at a coach of a football team. The coach is delegating when he calls all the plays for the quarterback to execute. If the coach creates the climate in which the quarterback has the savvy and commitment to call as well as execute the plays, the coach has empowered the quarterback. A workplace example used in my last blog where the employee took the initiative to develop a software program to establish much needed metrics in a financial institution exemplifies empowerment that is well entrenched in an organization because the goals and activities originated with the employee. It allowed inventiveness and the origination of ideas and opportunities never considered by the boss.

When creating an environment of empowerment, the question often arises – who is the real star when it works well? Is it the employee, enabling boss, or organization? This is such a tough question to answer because empowerment requires relationships of mutual trust, respect, and good judgment.

If I had to make a choice as it regards today’s business environment, my choice would be the empowering manager. After all, the manager is still responsible for the outcome and pays the ultimate price of success or failure. The buck still stops with the boss. It’s the boss who creates the environment for employees to go beyond fulfilling their daily responsibilities and instead feel a part of the larger organization where they can think about ways to add greater value. Most importantly, it’s up to the boss to accurately assess the talent on his or her team. Not everyone can be empowered. The boss needs to accurately assess whether the employee or team demonstrates a worthiness of being empowered.

What do you think? How would you answer the question?

Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).
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