Employee Empowerment

What Is Employee Empowerment?

Employee empowerment is a technique of involving employees in their work through the process of inclusion. Empowerment encourages employees to become innovators and managers of their own work, and it involves them in their jobs in ways that give them more control and autonomous decision-making capabilities.

  • By definition, employee empowerment simply means granting employees power to initiate change, thereby encouraging them to take charge of what they do.

As described by one manager,

  • employee empowerment involves “pushing down decision-making responsibility to those close to internal and external customers.”
Empowered Employees Achieve Results  
In today’s highly competitive and dynamic business environment, employers as diverse as Home Depot, Walt-Mart, Cigna HealthCare, Costco, AutoZone, Disney, and Applebee’s have turned to their employees to improve organizational performance. Empowered employees have made improvements in products or service quality, reduced cost, and modified or, in some cases, designed products.
  • At Kraft Foods, employees at the company’s Sussex, Wisconsin, food plant participated in work redesign changes and team building that increased productivity, reduced overhead, and cut assembly time.
  • Avon Products empowered its minority managers to improve sales and service in inner-city markets. Grounded in the belief that minority managers better understand the culture of inner-city residents, Avon turned an unprofitable market into a highly productive sales area.
  • Dorothy Galvez, administrative assistant to Robert E. Mittelstaedt, Jr., dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, has empowered her position by planning college activities and events, preparing special college reports, learning new educational and business technology, and serving as the dean’s representative at college and business events.
  • At Ford’s factory in Wayne, Michigan, one group of employees made a suggestion saving $115,000 per year on the purchase of gloves used to protect workers who handle sheet metal and glass. The group figured out how to have the gloves washed so they could be used more than once.
  • Home Depot’s Special Project Support Teams (SPST) work to improve the organization’s business and information services. Employees with a wide range of backgrounds and skills collaborate to address a wide range of strategic and tactical business needs.
  • American Airlines’ “Rainbow Team” of gay employees brought in $192 million in annual revenue by targeting the gay community.

While defining empowerment can become the first step to achieving it, in order for empowerment to grow and thrive, organizations must encourage these conditions:

Participation

Employees must be encouraged to take control of their work tasks. Employees, in turn, must care about improving their work process and interpersonal work relationships.

Innovation

The environment must receptive to people with innovative ideas and encourage people to explore new paths and to take reasonable risks at reasonable costs. An empowered environment is created when curiosity is as highly regarded as is technical expertise.

Access to information

Employees must have access to a wide range of information. Involve individuals decide what kind of information they need for performing their jobs.

Accountability

Empowerment does not involve being able to do whatever you want. Empowered employees should be held accountable for their behavior toward others, producing agreed-on results, achieving credibility, and operating with a positive approach.

Additionally, employee empowerment succeeds when the culture of the organization is open and receptive to change. An organization’s culture is largely created through the philosophies of senior managers and their leadership traits and behaviors.

Effective leadership in an empowered organization is highlighted by managers who are honest, confident, trusting, and receptive to new ideas and who exhibit dignity and respect for employees as partners in organizational success.

Conversely, organizations or managers who are autocratic and control-oriented seldom empower their employees or welcome organization change. Chris Argyris, noted Harvard professor, critically states, “Managers love empowerment in theory, but the command and control model is what they trust and know best.”