What Is An Empowerment Culture?
Employee empowerment, when it works well, is the management practice of sharing information, rewards, and power with employees so that they can take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve service and performance. The whole purpose of investing in an empowerment philosophy is built around the idea that giving employees skills, knowledge, training and development, physical and financial resources, authority, opportunity in addition to holding them responsible and accountable for outcomes of their actions, will contribute to their competence and satisfaction.
The whole approach is the total opposite of the traditional, and more comfortable, management tradition of a top-down, hierarchical organisation structure which gives control and explicit authority to management. With empowerment comes a change in the duties of management – now it is all about managers as facilitators, providing resources and information for staff to work with.
The range of empowerment delivered, and accepted, by the staff will be unique to each organisation but as a manager who is committed to empowerment, the following areas of focus and involvement need to be clearly defined:
- Involved in making suggestions: employees can have an impact in a limited manner on the everyday activity of the business, but their normal working routines are unlikely to be affected. It is essential to put into action at least some of the suggestions that you receive, otherwise the whole process will crumble and fade away.
- Job involvement: a wider range of meaningful tasks are allocated to the staff to give them a greater sense of involvement, achievement and satisfaction. Middle management roles and activity may be impacted but senior management are untouched by any changes.
- High involvement: employees at all levels are fully involved in all aspects of the business. Here information is shared, teams of staff work to solve problems and success is down to the collective effort of all. To achieve this having the right managerial talent is essential, as is allocating sufficient resources to staff to make this a reality.
In the broader sense, the old ways of delivering co-ordination and control are gone, especially considering the trends for delayering, downsizing and the removal of staff within the organisation as the market dictates. Success now hinges upon the skills and commitment of the staff who do the work and not the direction of layers of management.
Empowerment means staff putting to better use their years of experience and knowledge, which has the benefit of increasing morale and motivation, staff commitment and loyalty, alongside reduced absenteeism and higher staff retention rates.
It will always be difficult for some managers to take on the role of a facilitator, just as it will be difficult for some staff to become involved in a meaningful way in a culture where they are taking real responsibility for their actions. When workers are hand-on it may be a big sell to convince them to take a broader responsibility for their actions, just as managers need to be aware of the importance of Emotional Intelligence in making the process work. In short, harnessing the abilities and strengths of everyone involved is critically important.
Organisations that rely on establishing long-term relationships with their customers, as opposed to engaging in short, infrequent transactions, stand to gain the most from this approach: organisations operating in a stable operating environment, where programmed and ideal responses to customer enquiries can be established, have relatively little to gain from considering empowerment as an approach. Where there are no opportunities for discretion and where regulation governs how the organisation delivers its products or services, the use of empowerment is not advisable.
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