Staff performance has many implications. In a comment on my recent post about delegation, a client asked my opinion of “empowerment”. I’m a rabid fan. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.
The History Of Employee Empowerment
It’s not new. A colleague of mine wrote a book about it in the 1980s. In broad terms, “empowerment” became a word to describe how to enable minority and socially deprived groups to “have a say”. It was intended to help them feel included and represented.
In the case of employees we now often use the term “engagement” rather than “empowerment“.
The Delegation Connection
Empowerment is a consequence of delegation. If you’re unwilling to delegate, employee empowerment will be beyond you. That’s the reality.
“Them” Not “You”
Remember employees are empowered only if they believe they are. All the management jargon on the planet won’t change that. The manager creates the culture to foster empowerment. But if it isn’t embraced by employees, it won’t happen.
A Two Way Process
I’ve experienced many successful examples of employee empowerment. It hinges on two characteristics: the willingness of employees to make suggestions for improvement; and the willingness of management to value those suggestions. I thought that this could best be illustrated with a case study.
Empowered Employees: A Case Study
The business was a specialist mechanical repair shop. They repaired and reconditioned a particular machine. They used an “assembly line” approach with 15 stations. The system was fully computerized. The operators received a base salary plus performance based incentives. Productivity had improved significantly since incentives were introduced.
A group of operators met with the Production Manager during a school holiday period. They proposed that if the work of all the operators was completed to full standard by Friday lunchtime they should be allowed to have Friday afternoon off on full pay to spend time with their families.
But … The Boss Was Away
At the time the CEO was overseas on business. His deputy had been taken to hospital unexpectedly for minor surgery. The Production Manager was in charge. Without reference to the CEO or his Deputy, he said, “Yes”. He was empowered. So were the employees in asking him.
The employees got their Friday afternoon off. When the CEO returned, he supported the Production Manager’s actions. The “half day off” dependent on group performance has since been included as part of their standard reward and incentive program with the CEOs approval.
Everyone involved was a winner.
Making Empowerment Work
The story illustrates the value of empowered employees. And it illustrates the circumstances under which empowerment is likely to work.
- Employees must be confident that their suggestions will be taken seriously
- Clear, measurable performance standards enhance employee empowerment
- Clearly defined consequences help employees make sound suggestions
- Suggestions for precise actions make for easier evaluation
- Employee empowerment is most likely to be successful where a culture of performance based reward and incentive is well established
- Operational decisions should include employees involved in the actual operations.
Some Simple Suggestions
As a manager you can do a number of simple things to create a culture where empowerment is highly valued.
- When an employee comes to you with a problem always say, “What do you think we should do?” Never say, “Leave it with me.”
- Make the question, “How can we do it better?” Something you ask frequently. Constantly seek recommendations for improvement.
- Always seek ways to make operational decisions part of day to day operations rather than a managerial prerogative.
- Ask questions such as, “What would be the consequences….?” And “Who else would be affected?” when you receive suggestions. This helps employees recognize that their performance affects others.
- Keep business requirements as “top of mind” by asking, “What affect would that have on the business?”
- Be prepared to “try it for a month to see how it works.” This encourages employees to test ideas under operational conditions.
- Make sure that all suggestions you receive include details of positive improvements to performance systems.
- Promote inter-team co-operation by involving more than one team in evaluating suggestions for improvement.
Authority And Empowerment
To empower employees, you must provide them with authority. They must feel free to take initiatives, to “go the extra mile”, without reference to you. They must have sound reasons to expect your support and feel that they have freedom to act without first consulting you.
Employee empowerment is highly desirable. It starts with delegation. It ends with employees running the business on a day to day basis. And it frees managers to manage. Never say, “Leave it with me” ever again. “Ow …wouldn’t it be luverley!”