Just as organizational improvement is an ongoing process, so too is empowerment. Specific factors combine to define the empowered environment that must be in place if the organization is to work effectively and efficiently.
Leaders should understand that employees have a wide range of discretion when it comes to contributing or withholding efforts. The goal of empowerment is to motivate employees to contribute maximum effort to the success of their unit’s activities and, ultimately, the company.
Many employees will contribute as little as possible within the range of their job description and responsibilities. When leaders empower their employees, they are motivated to contribute not only increased effort to the accomplishment of their own duties, but also more ideas, concepts and insights.
When collaborative efforts, ideas, concepts and insights are combined in an empowered atmosphere, it translates into sustainable success and improved results for the company.
Leaders are the main impetus for creating an empowered atmosphere within their organization. They know the strength of empowerment is achieved when such an atmosphere is created at all levels of the organization, and that they have the power and authority to remove the barriers to empowering their employees. In this manner the organization is able to gain the momentum to move forward and grow as a whole. The factors discussed below help create an empowered atmosphere when put into place.
Employees Understand What Is Expected of Them
Employees must be taught to appreciate that a transition to an empowered atmosphere is a pivotal change for the organization. Minimal efforts and contributions are no longer accepted—not in terms of a disciplinary approach but in terms of employees understanding their role in the company’s success and how individual efforts contribute to that success. Often these changes are greeted with skepticism, which changes once employees see that the leader’s words are backed by consistent actions.
Employees must understand that a choice to more deeply involve themselves by contributing their ideas, concepts and insights benefits not only themselves but also their associates and coworkers.
Goals and Measurements Are Consistently Applied
A critical factor of the empowered environment is the consistent application of goals, standards and measurements. When this is implemented it creates an atmosphere of trust and credibility throughout the company because employees understand they are all being treated fairly and consistently. They know what is expected of them and how those efforts will be measured. If they fail to meet those standards, they know the penalties. They also are aware that when they exceed the standards they will be rewarded and recognized.
When employees understand the objectives of their company and unit, the current performance goals and targets of their team or workgroup, and the limits on their decision-making authority, they are empowered to make consistent decisions without the leader’s guidance.
Employees Are Given the Skills and Tools to Perform Effectively
More than merely a word, empowerment is a method of tapping the human resources within an organization. Employees cannot work in this environment without first being trained according to the concepts of empowerment and teamwork; they must be provided with the skills and the tools to perform effectively.
Leaders understand that a fully developed, empowered environment is a process that requires time to implement. It takes time to train, coach, monitor and develop the skills and tools that facilitate organizational change.
Frequent and Immediate Recognition of Contributions
Recognition is one of the most powerful motivators in the workplace. The Westinghouse studies of the 1930s recognized this concept and determined that employees are more motivated by personal recognition than financial benefit. An empowered environment must factor in frequent and immediate recognition of subordinate contributions.
Additionally, leaders play a major role in this critical factor: while everyone expects to be recognized for their major successes, the real impact is when leaders reward employees for their small contributions. In some companies, leaders actively search to catch employees doing something right and then reward them on the spot. The impacts of these programs have dramatic effects on employee performance.
Employees Provided with Positive Feedback and Communication
Another essential role of leaders in the empowered environment is to actively communicate with employees and provide them with positive feedback. The leader is facilitating change and empowerment by motivating and assisting the individual subordinate to meet his or her goals or objectives. This is in contrast to a manager or supervisor who is directing and disciplining employees when they fail to perform. Contrasting the two styles highlights a differing focus on negative and positive behaviors.
Employees and Leaders Perform with Discipline
Empowerment is not a haphazard management fad but a structured discipline within the organization. It allows employees to contribute their individual efforts at their maximum capabilities and thus allows the company to harness a largely untapped resource.
Since it is a disciplined approach, all leaders and employees are directed to work within the parameters established by the goals, objectives, standards and measurements of the organization. Barriers and constraints are removed, but all employees are still working within and toward the entire organization’s goals. There are rewards and penalties delivered to maintain discipline and to motivate employees.
Excerpt: Organizational Empowerment (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI, 2011)