Last Updated : 03-09-2014 12:31


Surviving in times of crisis - Employee empowerment- secret to a successful business team

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I have known Jagath as an enterprising young man for a number of years. He had a degree in management but his career choice was marketing. After qualifying himself in marketing, he joined a small local trading company as a sales manager. Recently I found him in a disturbed frame of mind. While reading for the degree, he learnt a lot about ‘employee empowerment’ and decided to try it out at his workplace. But things just did not work to his expectations - sales went down month after month. He called the sales team for a meeting and when confronted, one said, “We are not sure what you want. If you could tell us exactly what to do...”

Jagath was another victim of a buzzword of olden management gurus. Yet, he hasn’t done anything wrong. His intention is good. What went wrong was that empowerment was done in haste.

‘Employee empowerment’ is a term that is used to express the ways in which non-managerial staff members can make decisions without consulting their bosses or managers. These decisions can be small or large, depending upon the degree of power with which the company wishes to invest employees. Employee empowerment can begin with training and converting a whole company to an empowerment model. Conversely, it might merely mean giving employees the ability to make some decisions on their own.

Happier employees
The thinking behind employee empowerment is that it gives power to individuals and thus makes for happier employees. By being able to make choices and participate on a more responsible level, employees become more invested in their company. They often view themselves as representatives of the company.

When employees feel as though they have choice and can make certain direct decisions, it often leads to a greater feeling of self-worth. In a model where power is closely tied to sense of self, having some power is a valuable thing. An employee who does not feel constantly watched and criticized is more likely to consider work to be a positive environment instead of a negative one.

General rules
The three general rules for empowering the people around you are appreciation, approval and attention. Voice your thanks and gratitude to others on every occasion. Praise them for every accomplishment. And pay close attention to them when they talk and want to interact with you. These three behaviours alone will make you a master of human interaction and will greatly empower the people around you.
  • Build your own self-esteem
And the wonderful thing about thanking other people is that every time you say the words ‘thank you’, you like yourself better as well. You feel happier and more content with yourself and life. When you develop an attitude of gratitude that flows forth from you in all of your interactions with others, you will be amazed at how popular you will become and how eager others will be to help you in whatever you are doing.
  • Praise and approve others continually
The second way to make people feel important to raise their self-esteem and give them a sense of power and energy is by the generous use of praise and approval. Psychological tests show that when employees are praised by the people that they look up to, their energy levels rise, their heart rates and respiratory rates increase and they feel happier about themselves overall.
  • Make people feel important
Perhaps the most valuable lesson in Ken Blanchard’s book ‘The One Minute Manager’ is his recommendation to be giving “one-minute praising” at every opportunity. If you go around your workplace and through your relationships praising and giving genuine and honest approval to people for their accomplishments, large and small, you will be amazed at how much more to help you achieve your goals.
  • Practise the law of reciprocity
There is a psychological law of reciprocity that says, “If you make me feel good about myself, I will find a way to make you feel good about yourself.” In other words, people will always look for ways to reciprocate your kindnesses toward them. When you look for every opportunity to do and say things that make other people feel good about themselves, you will be astonished at not only how good you feel, but at the wonderful things that begin to happen all around you.
  • Pay attention when they talk    
The third way to empower others, to build their self-esteem and make them feel important is simply to pay close attention to them when they talk. The great majority of people are so busy trying to be heard that they become impatient when others are talking. But this is not for you. Remember, the most important single activity that takes place over time is listening intently to the other person when he or she is talking and expressing him or her.

When top management does pass the power down, they typically give employees authority to make decisions in three areas:
  • Redesign of work processes. Employees can be encouraged to identify problems with work processes and then investigate their causes, select and test solutions, change the processes and monitor the results. Businesses began implementing systematic process improvement decades ago, using continuous incremental improvements, total quality management, radical redesign, business process reengineering and other methods.
  • Management of personnel. Employees can be allowed to set schedules for work, training and vacations, establish worker assignments and set job performance standards, conduct employee performance appraisals and administer discipline, hire new workers and determine sick leave, substance abuse and sexual harassment policies.
  • General management functions. Employees can take on planning, budgeting, communicating with suppliers and problem solving in general. To implement these changes, re-inventors must dismantle bureaucratic systems that are based on constraining employees rather than trusting them. They must get managers to change their authoritarian ways. They must establish clear performance targets for employees and invest in employees’ ability to make good decisions. And they must measure employee performance and reward it.
Breaking down the system
Empowering employees is not only about cheering them on or being nicer to them. It is about giving them real power.  Most bureaucratic organisations keep their various subunits at the mercy of a central office, which sets the rules and hands out the resources. Top managers run the place by establishing one-size-fits-all controls for the units.

Written rules
Bureaucracies thrive on rules. Many organisations magnify the problem by creating more rules than they are required to. Many organisations don’t even realize how many rules they’ve created. They routinely blame someone else—labour law, finance division or Board of Directors- for all their rules, when much of the problem is home-grown.

Companies are slowly realizing that without the right employees and the right internal culture and environment, they will never be able to compete externally and deliver goods and services at the speed of today’s business. There’s no need to jump to complete anarchy where employees take over the company and abolish all processes.

However, the massive opportunity lies in a deliberate, collaborative and respectful partnership between the company, the employee and the end customer. To really capture this opportunity, top bosses of the company need to abandon their fear and figure out how they can work with employees to harness their passions and their sense of power.

Employers too will gain by empowering employees. Creating environments where employees can chart their career and growth by working on what they are passionate about is simply good for business. Employers’ ability to get, retain and tap into the brilliance of their workforce is a definite competitive advantage in an age of uncertainty and times of crisis. Employees tend to be more passionate about spaces that allow them to be themselves and passion is one of the most underrated resources in business. It’s passion that helps people push for a goal bigger than themselves, be truly creative enough to solve difficult problems and simply do more and better.
(The writer is a corporate director with over 25 years’ senior managerial experience. He can be contacted on


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