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.
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.
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
- Praise and approve others continually
- Make people feel important
- Practise the law of reciprocity
- Pay attention when they talk
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org)