Empowerment is an important topic in business today, and for good reason. People and teams who are empowered tend to perform at a high level. This has the secondary benefit of making employee supervision easier, thus clearing up time for managers to focus on important decisions.
So few would argue that employee empowerment is important. But how is it done effectively? What is responsible empowerment?
In his book, Leading Self-Directed Work Teams, Kimball Fisher laid out a formula for responsible empowerment. It’s an effective model, one that I use in my work with my clients.
Fisher says that in order for an employee or a team to be truly empowered, they must have:
● The information to determine the right course of action
● The resources to take action
● The authority to make decisions
● Accountability for their actions
Kimball argues that all four components must be present in order for true authority to exist. If any one is missing, then the employee or team is not empowered.
To further explain, let’s use an example of a team being empowered to set their own work schedules.
First, the team must have the pertinent information about the parameters of setting schedules. They need to know any applicable laws, access to facilities, work deadlines, production schedules and so on, so they can set their schedules within those boundaries.
Second, they need to have the resources to be able to take action. In this case, that might mean access to scheduling software, having enough team members, and being able to access the tools and facilities they need.
Third, they need to be given the authority to actually set the schedules, and have the final say on what decisions are made. No one can be looking over their shoulder or overruling them.
Finally, they need to be held accountable. If they set their schedules and miss a deadline, they need to feel the consequences. Similarly, if they’re successful, they need to be rewarded appropriately. In either case, they cannot be insulated from the ramifications of their actions.
Now, using the above scenario, try taking away any one of the components.
If they don’t have the information or resources they need to make decisions, how can they make the right ones? If all of their decisions require approval, stripping away their authority, will they feel empowered? If they are not held accountable, for good results or bad, how will that affect their decisions?
Too often, managers think they are empowering their teams, when in fact they are not providing them everything they need to be empowered. It’s especially common for managers to withhold authority, requiring approval for decisions.
In our example above, not providing authority just means employees have to do the work of setting schedules, but really have no say in how they are set. That’s not empowerment, it’s just transferring tasks.
If empowering people is important in your organization, try applying this formula. Are you providing your people everything they need in order be truly empowered?
If not, your people are likely not as empowered, and not as satisfied in their work, as you may think.