Some concepts are really simple; Empowerment is one of them. Basically, it is about giving power to make decisions to someone, typically talked about in customer service or in team situations.
It reminds me of a joke:
You've seen a flock of birds like ducks or geese or pelicans in the sky -- and you find that they always fly in a "V". Did you ever notice that one side is always longer than the other? Know why?
There are more birds on that side.
This is NOT rocket science, and empowerment is not a difficult concept in and of itself.
(Kinda nice actually in that if I DO something that shows I'm empowered, it will have wonderful benefits on everyone including the people and the customers. Wowie! BUT empowerment is a bit more difficult than this to IMPLEMENT.
One of the reasons that empowerment is thought not to work well is simple:
BOSS spelled backwards is self-explanatory.
It's not the people. It is the management! Some support for this:
A Gallup survey released when this was initially written (8/11/99) found "nearly 25% of employees feel angry at work" and "the most common cause of workplace anger -- cited by 11% of those questioned -- was "the action of supervisors or managers."
When an employee is "being empowered" and thus asked to take risks, they leave themselves wide open for negative feedback by The Boss. My mother always called this Constructive Criticism, meaning that she was allowed to share as much of this as she wished in order to make me better. It was not done with malice, it was just done.
Generally, "Constructive Criticism" is defined by psychologists as meeting the clinical definition of punishment. CC is also a prerequisite for most performance appraisal systems, BTW, which tend to be an annual event to justify not giving the person a raise but structured as a tool for performance improvement.
Public punishment generally occurs once. Then, the employees go underground with their behavior and doing things for the customer, doing it but declining to accept any responsibility for it. Or, they construct the situation to actually attribute the behavior to another (and sometimes innocent) party. If punishment continues, then the behavior will stop or the employee will leave (or in the case of anger, "potentially lead to the kinds of explosions of rage we have seen," according to Donald Gibson of Yale and a co-author of the Gallup study cited above).
One of the best perceived customer service improvement ploys goes something like this:
"Oh, that comes under the standard 9-day response period and we will not be out to your premises for at least that many business days BUT what I can do is move this up on the list so that you will only have to wait 3 days for them to be out there."
"Oh, sure, you can mention my name in your testimonial to the company President, his name is Billy Baker and he can be reached at..." (Note: This behavior is best done when there is a 2-day backlog of work and the likelihood of meeting a 3-day commitment is most excellent).
The best definition of empowerment I have ever heard was:
"An invitation for responsible initiative"
(by Steve Ewing, company president)
This was backed up by his corporate commitment to improve service quality, clarify the mission and vision and all that. He got some good results over a period of a couple of years of effort focused on customer service and perceptions.
More generally, we see these kinds of definitions in the literature:
Empowerment implies individualistic forbearance pyramided upon a congruent pragmatic organizational ideology. Success requires vertical integrity without innuendo and rhetoric and desired behaviors must be imbricated in and adhered to a completely luminous operational alignment. Flexible compartmentalization is expected. Individuals must exhibit an emotional intelligence and fabricate responses congruent with the ideology and recapitulate with the culture ecologically. Results will be measured.
There is often little actual corporate commitment to this kind of initiative. But, consulting firms will be most pleased to help you construct your customized model to align with your desired results. Certification is optional. And the "investment" can be significant.
Cosmetic Empowerment is more common. It is structurally exhibited by managers as: "Yes, but..."
A Potential Solution:
If you would like to empower the people in your organization, my suggestion is that you hire a very well known consulting organization ONLY after your top management team suggests (and budgets) it and arrange to pay them an exceptionally large amount of money. (The latter is most important --this CANNOT be done cheaply or the effect will be lost.)
When failure results, the lack of results will be ignored by the senior managers and soon forgotten by them because of the natural tendency toward repression of negative emotional experiences.
DO NOT try to manage and implement this yourself, since you are establishing yourself as an obvious target for constructive criticism that will be apparent in your next salary review or performance appraisal (which is designed to improve your performance).
Using Dis-Un-Empowerment - (click here)
Or, you could wind up starting your own consulting firm... Moron that later,
(see Working Home, Selling Globally)
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