Empowering people to make decisions at work

Tuesday, 26 October 2010 22:34 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

‘Empowerment’ has become the most discussed topic around the world in the recent past. People discussed empowering women and children, marginalised people and employees at work. They published articles, organised workshops and tried to make a sociological change.

Empowerment is delegating the authority to make certain decisions. This will give an opportunity for employees to feel more engaged and to feel as a part of the organisation.

Human Resources Management has become a very complex area of work that requires professionals to have the capability to manage a number of tasks from sometimes very monotonous day to day administration functions to strategic planning level. Especially the CEOs and top management today want employees to be transformed into business partners and they look to HR functions to drive this.

They expect employees to be involved in decision making and contributing more in business planning. Hence, empowerment of employees became the solution for this requirement. By delegating decision making authority and responsibility amongst the staff, managers and leaders could spend more and more time in elevating organisations’ strategic planning.

They say old habits die hard and some managers/leaders have proved it by finding it difficult to change their roles from prime decision maker to a facilitator. Nor have they known how to make empowerment a reality in their area of work and aren’t sure of what capabilities are desirable in subordinates to make empowerment happen. However, there are managers and leaders who have identified the huge benefits that could be gained from empowering others.

Empowerment creates marvels

Empowerment is not limited to HR division. It is applicable for each and every division of an organisation. It makes the difference when a sales person decides doing that little bit extra for customers. Empowerment makes the difference when the split second decision by worker saves the production line from a possible breakdown. Empowerment makes the difference when people try to locate opportunity for improving their work processes.

Often empowerment is viewed as authority that managers grant employees but in real terms, it is more or less recognising their power which they already have. For example, sales representatives have the capability to make the businesses or to break them. Unfortunately most of our younger generation who works in that level has not realised the power they have. It is the same with the operational executives; even with the shop floor people who shed sweat to make products.

Benefits of empowering employees:

Building loyalty: Empowering employees can have dramatic results in a company. If employees feel empowered, they will work harder, faster, be more loyal and enjoy their jobs more. When you get a reputation as a manager or leader that gives people the opportunity to grow and develop, staff become incredibly loyal. They know that you trust them and will go that extra mile when things are tough.

Motivation: When a manager or leader tells you the result that they want and leaves it to you to find out the best way to achieve, chances are that your motivation increases. All of them will get motivated, excited, intensely revved up and burnt out for the company. Empowerment will motivate employees than the incentives, bonuses or scholarships given to them would do. This might surprise you sometimes. Empowerment means giving recognition to the employees.

Learning and development: Managements expect employees to perform well after sending them for various trainings, they expect employees to do things right. But the truth is though they learn more, things hardly work out as expected. When you empower, you take some risk and allow others to learn and develop from doing a task or a project.

Performance: Empowering improves performance. Changes in performance happen more quickly when people get into action and start doing. Empowering is a great way of improving performance.

Achieving results: All managers and leaders are at the end of the day judged on the results they achieve. Empowering others and leveraging the full range of skills, knowledge, experience and personal attributes at your disposal helps achieve results.

Recruitment and retention: Attracting and retaining good people is a major challenge for many organisations. If you are known as a manager or a leader who empowers others, you will start to attract the best and they will stay longer. I bet that you can think of a number of managers that you worked who you stayed with longer than you expected simply because they kept your development needs in focus.

Succession planning: Managers and leaders are ambitious and like to keep climbing the career ladder. Many managers and leaders want to ensure that when the time comes for them to move on to have a batch of people ready to step into their roles. Thus in real terms, empowering others is a way to ensure your own progression. Empowering others has huge benefits, so what will you start to do differently when it comes to empowerment?

When should employees be empowered?

The organisational culture is the most important thing that would support the implementation of empowerment. If any manager or a leader feels insecure of losing his/her authority, such people will not support the whole idea of empowering employees. We see this situation especially in certain Government departments of our country as they get promoted for their seniority not for their proven talent.

However, empowerment requires a total culture change in a company. The companies should empower employees when:

  • They develop a healthy relationship with customers
  • The company needs innovative ideas
  • Processes and procedures change rapidly
  • The business environment is uncertain
  • They want to grow, be responsible, being recognised and develop
  • When there is high competition in the market
  • Close supervision is impossible
  • We need to use time meaningfully

Facts to consider when not to empower employees

  • Consistency and uniformity are essential at work and delivery. If the employees are not performing in a consistent manner, it is not the right time to empower them in their work. Their performance should be closely monitored and they should be guided to be consistent in their tasks. If they lack knowledge or skills the management should provide training and help them to come out of the situation and if it is an attitudinal problem that holds them back, the management should spend extra time with them mentoring and helping to understand their weaknesses.
  • Costs need to be minimised and tightly controlled, because errors and careless mistakes are too costly.
  • When the operations are too regular and need to be standardised you should not empower employees.

nWhen the employees are too dependent and lack confidence, empowerment should not be done as it will be seen as a burden on their shoulders not as an opportunity to grow. A close supervision is essential.

  • It is not necessary to bring the concept of empowering employees if the motivation is already strong and people are happy performing their tasks up to the expected standards.
  • When the organisation’s culture is not supportive we should not implement empowering employees as that could lead to internal conflict amongst the staff. Especially between the management and shop floor staff. This is the time that the managers are not ready to let their power go.

(The writer is the Managing Director and CEO, McQuire Rens Group of Companies. He has held regional responsibilities of two multinational companies of which one was a Fortune 500 company. He carries out consultancy assignments and management training in Dubai, India, Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. He is a much sought-after business consultant and corporate management trainer in Sri Lanka.)

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