The Essence of
Empowerment


















Empowerment is certainly not a new idea within the business arena. In fact, its concept has been around since the 1960\'s when American car manufactures suddenly realized that they were losing their butts to the Japanese producers. An extensive and extremely well-funded investigation for answers to the recurrent question, how do I get more out of my employees while simultaneously lowering my costs, did produce some implementable and constructive results. The topic I have chosen to investigate is the application of employee empowerment and how to get the most out of this HR "buzzword." Within my scope of discussions are topics which include effective implementation, the role of the organization, and incentives to achieve and sustain actuation.
Employee empowerment, in its most basic definition, is effective delegation. The new twist that upper management has been trying desperately to achieve, is to involve the lowest level of employees in the decision-making process while making them responsible for the results of their decisions. There have been many documented examples of anxiety, mistrust and complacency in employees when this wave of "new-and-improved, successful management strategies" have been suddenly thrown upon them. Change of any kind will usually inspire resistance, especially when you are talking about extracting power from management to place in the hands of "subordinates."
There are obvious methods to achieving the results that the stakeholders of an organization demand through empowerment. Increases in profitability, productivity, creativity, and a shorter time-to-market are all feasible results of empowerment. In fact, "empowerment is an extremely cost-effective means of bringing about desired changes in performance and operational effectiveness." It takes only a stout devotion of the entire organization, from the top levels downward. That\'s all. There are, however, key factors to its success.
One of the most important key elements to take into account is the need for extensive organizational preparation to achieve effective implementation. By preparation, I mean an organizational-wide commitment to preparing both management and its staff for the changes that are about to take place.
Education is one of the most effective tools in preparing for change. Remember that psychological studies determined that individuals are inherently resistant to change when they don\'t know the results and consequences of that change. Education of all levels within an organization will help eradicate some of the fear that\'s associated with change. It will also help define everyone\'s role after the changes are established. Additionally, this becomes an opportunity for upper management to align employees with corporate direction by disseminating vital information.
One such change that must occur is the flattening of the organizational chart, whether that entails the redefining or elimination of jobs. Flattening the levels of bureaucracy eliminates the hierarchical chain of command and brings all individuals closer to the actual end product. This has its advantages since all members of the organization, then, have a feel for what it is they are actually doing.
Since the utopian result of empowerment is the transference "of decision making and ownership to those individuals [at the lowest possible levels] who have the knowledge and ability to make the most appropriate decision, " these individuals are, therefore, most familiar with their end of the value chain. They theoretically can recognize what it is, exactly, that can be done more efficiently and productively to bring this product to market at lower costs. They are also able to "refine" the product since they have hands-on experience. This transference of responsibility to the employee inherently leaves more time for creative brainstorming by management to search for more proficient processes and products.
Open, multilateral communication between management and staff is another vital requirement for effective implementation. Expectations must be communicated from top levels of management and vice versa for empowerment to work. These channels are one of the ways for management to offer support and direction. It is imperative for them to remain open and available to all employees.
One of the largest impediments to empowerment that must be addressed in the preparation phase of implementation is corporate culture. As competition is changing rapidly to a global market economy, organizations need to realize that they too, must change to remain competitive. While culture remains one of the strongest influences on individual and organizational behavior, it also becomes one of the hardest aspects to change.