Worker Empowerment Absurdity and Absolute Necessity: Maneuvering the Wide Gap Between Rhetoric and Reality…

Empowerment is the notion that an organization is most productive when its workers are empowered to make and take decisions on their own… when authority is devolved down to all levels of the organization…

To some people it’s just a feel-good idea, and to others it’s critical for an organization’s sustainability… Employee empowerment is a powerful motivational tool because it touches the core of the human spirit that desires to be in control of one’s destiny, and to bring about a one’s own sense of self-created order in a chaotic world…

The idea of ’empowerment’ was most closely associated with Rosabeth Moss Kanter in the book entitled ‘When Giants Learn to Dance’,where she argued that large companies need to liberate employees from stultifying hierarchies if they are going to be able to ‘dance’ (be productive) in the– flexible, fast-changing future…

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But then later Chris Argyris in the book entitled ‘Empowerment: The Emperor’s New Clothes’ wrote; empowerment is a ‘nice idea but the results are a shame’… everyone talks about empowerment but it’s not working… Argyris argued that these programs are riddled with contradictions and they send out mixed messages, such as; ‘do your own thing but do it the way we tell you’… Empowerment has its limits and it should not be a goal in itself; it’s only a means to an ultimate goal of superior performance… According to Theodore Roosevelt; best executives are those who have sense enough to pick the right people to do what needs to be done… and then keep from meddling with them while they do it…

In the article Employee Empowerment by lightspeed writes: Think of empowerment not just as a management strategy but also as business gold mine… If you can create a culture of ownership where ideas are encouraged and respected you develop a strong workforce willing to– weather storms, embrace change, go the extra mile to see the business succeed… However first and foremost, business must truly see the value of empowerment and be willing to change the way the business is managed…

Hence, take the time to listen to employees and find out what sort of empowerment they need to do their job better…  Also set appropriate boundaries of empowerment and give employees the tools they need through training, development… Finally, make empowerment an ongoing vision of the business and continually look for ways to develop ownership in each and every employee…

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In the article Effective Empowerment in Organizations by Gary A. Yukl, Wendy S. Becker write: Empowerment is an elusive concept; its been studied from different perspectives, including; employee perceptions, leadership behaviors, management programs… and despite the positive rhetoric, the programs that are designed to increase empowerment seldom achieve the benefits promised. The inclusiveness and seemingly contradictory outcomes stem from the fact that few companies give employees significant control and access to management information…

Part of the problem is definitional; all too often management initiatives evoke the name of empowerment when the initiatives are not truly empowering… It’s important to differentiate between– trying to change employee behavior, and programs that actually empower employees… Too often empowerment programs are viewed as a simple way to motivate employees to do more…

In the article Employee Empowerment: Why It Matters by Bret L. Simmons  writes: Empowerment is a tremendous concept but in practice it’s more of a loaded buzzword that managers toss around but rarely appreciate or fully support. Like many worthy concepts (e.g. engagement), the rhetoric of employee empowerment usually far exceeds the reality… According to a study published in ‘Journal of Applied Psychology’; managers should provide more reality and less rhetoric when it comes to employee empowerment…

The study findings suggest that empowerment does drives both employee behaviors and attitudes, e.g.; empowered employees were more satisfied and committed at work, less likely to experience stress, less likely to think about leaving the organization… But it also takes a specific type of employee to be successful with empowerment programs…

According to the study; practical implication of the results suggest that organizations might consider selecting employees who have positive self-evaluation traits to help establish a workforce that is more willing and able to show initiative and take an active role in improving its own performance… In other words; it’s important to hire the right type of people who have the aptitude and attitude for empowerment, e.g.; people who will act in best interest of the organization, who are trustworthy, who can take autonomous  actions, and who are dependable stewards of their decisions…

Empowerment is an individual thing; it’s relative and it depends on the situation of an organization and ‘ability’ of  individuals… Management must have/or have developed full confidence in each and every employee who is empower with certain responsibility… likewise, each employee must demonstrate that they understands the effects of their decisions/actions on the organization and are fully accountable…

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In the article Empowerment Vs. Control by Wayne Madden writes: You probably know  managers who consistently demonstrated that they believes that power comes from control, e.g.; micro-manages everything; demands to be ‘in-the-loop’ on every decision; instructs you to not make a move before ‘running it by them’; hoards critical data or information as if it’s a secret; says things like ‘you don’t need to know that’ or ‘don’t question, just do’… These type of managers work under the illusion that power comes from control– controlling information, controlling employees, controlling decisions…

Unfortunately, this illusion leads directly to building a reputation of– power-hungry managers, managers who do not empower others, they want all the credit, they want all the accolades, they trust no one… these are not actions of winning managers and, more important, of a sustainable organization… Whereas managers (organizations) who either intuitively know or have learned through trial and error that real power comes only through empowering others with– real power, real traction… and creating teams that feels motivated, empowered, accountable to move forward… and to provide unselfish guidance that enables individuals/team to flourish instead of controlling every move… While some might say this is just– lot of ‘bull’ and ‘game of words’… while other say; empowerment is critical for a sustainable organization…

Empowerment is only effective when everyone has a common understanding of the desired outcome, performance objectives, and their part in the effort… Empowerment relies on a well-defined set of ‘values’– beliefs that create a sense of identity and clear expectations; these values are the moral criteria/moral compass by which decisions are made and prioritized… It’s essential that all members of an organization hold ‘similar’ values, common mind-set of purpose with shared responsibility and accountability…

Empowerment without accountability is a recipe for chaos… According to Robert Simon; fundamental issue facing managers in the 21st Century is how to exercise adequate control in organizations that demand– flexibility, innovation, creativity… and still empower the organization with a sense purpose… It’s a highly competitive global world with informed customers, disruptive technologies, market uncertainty… and that means that most organization must rely on employee initiatives to engage global customers, seek out opportunities…

Empowerment at some level is an imperative, but empowerment also exposes to organizations to added risk or invite behaviors that can damage a company’s integrity… The dilemma: How does management protect the organization from ‘control failures’ when empowered employees are encouraged to redefine how they do their jobs? How does management ensure that subordinates with an entrepreneurial flair do not put the well-being of the organization at risk?

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One solution is to go back to the fundamentals of control developed in the 1950s and 1960s for machine-like bureaucracies. In that era, managers exercised control by telling people how to do their jobs and monitoring them with constant surveillance to guard against surprises…

However, in most organizations operating in dynamic and highly competitive markets, management cannot spend all their time and effort making sure that everyone is doing what is expected. Nor is it realistic to think that management can achieve control by simply– hiring good people, aligning incentives, hoping for the best…

Instead, today’s organizations must encourage and empower employees but with a level of balance between– employee ’empowerment ‘and management ‘control’ so as to maximize outcome and minimize risk…