Empowerment — friend or foe? In simple terms, it depends on you. First you must understand what empowerment means and then you must have the willingness to execute effectively.
A school principal had little good to say about technology. “I thought that e-mail was supposed to make my life easier” he lamented, “I now have to start work an hour earlier so I can check the surprise e-mails before the school day begins. You know the ones — I can’t show up for work today because of a death in the family or an illness or some other complication”
This is not empowerment; the manager has sold the farm. This manager has allowed this system improvement to dictate the rules of the game. By having no boundaries around the implementation of technology in the workplace, he has told his employees, “go ahead and behave as you wish, complicate my day; I empower you to treat me anyway you want”.
I am sure that teachers would love the looseness of this operating principle. They can share their excuses impersonally while the principal is left scrambling to fill teaching holes. Technology has changed dramatically since this complaint was lodged — texting and immediate messaging are now common place; however, the lesson continues to be relevant. Empowerment comes with guidelines that strengthen the team; these operating principles are both ethical and practical. That is, empowerment only works where there is respect for team members and for the system itself. Empowerment only works if the loss of control of the work to team members can be offset with effective and regular substantive communication.
I am not trying to discourage you from empowering your employees; there are just too many good reasons for continuing in what many managers would consider a stressful dilemma.
For example, LaTosha Johnson at Brazen Careerist comes at the issue of empowerment from two points of view — the importance of getting employees excited about their work and the importance of fulfilling the prophesy that the people you hire are indeed the “best and brightest”. Failing to empower is indeed the greater sin when compared to the complications of mismanaging the empowerment process.
In this difficult economy, restaurants are trimming costs, offering discounts and promotions; however, the restaurants with the strongest instincts for survival are implementing employee empowerment as a survival technique says Evan Noetsel in his blog, Chef’s Stirrings from Chef Magazine. He shares the story of Ian MacGregor, president and owner of The Lobster Place. “My general management philosophy when it comes to employees,” he said, “is that nobody ever washed a rental car–meaning, if an employee doesn’t feel like they own something, they’re not going to take care of it. So, we try and empower our employees as much as possible because no matter what level they’re working at, if they feel as though they have ownership over their group of responsibilities, then they’re much more likely to stay with us than turn over, the way [that] is typical in the industry.” In this case, empowerment means employee retention and avoiding expensive recruitment and training costs. It also means employees working harder and more efficiently.
As a manager who appreciated the power of the employee, I was quick to empower; however, I was also cautious in how I empowered employees. So this Friday in “Craig’s Top Five List” I will offer five strategies that the manager can employ to effectively empower employees.