I believe I learned this from Peter Scholtes, though maybe I am remembering it wrong or explaining it wrong (so give him the credit and if I mess it up it is my fault). I believe there is a problem with using the term empowered. Using the term implies that it one person empowers another person. This is not the correct view. Instead we each play a role within a system. Yes there are constraints on your actions based on the role you are playing. Does a security guard empower the CEO to enter the building?
Some systems are setup with a great deal of micro managing. Then consultants look around and say you need to empower your employees to think. Which often results in mangers saying “you all are empowered” go forth and do good work. Saying that is meaningless. What matters is changing the system. The system needs to respect people. That is not increased by people using the word empowered. In fact it is decreased, I believe, due to the implied notion that one person “empowers” the other (what can be granted can be withdrawn).
I believe organizations should be designed so that decisions are made at the appropriate level. Systems should be designed to produce good results by allowing people to contribute. People should be trusted to do their job. They should not be micro-managed.
People deserve to have a system that is managed to allow them to most effectively do their job. They should have standard work instructions. Decisions should be based on an understanding of variation. Non-value added work should be eliminated (freeing people to do valuable work). Ideas should be judged based on the merit of the idea not the position of the person expressing the idea.
When discussing empowerment this topics come up, but the wrong term reinforces the wrong view of the situation. It is similar to the problem with “motivation.” What managers need to do is eliminate de-motivation – not to motivate. Manager’s don’t need to “empower” employees they need to fix the system to treat employees with respect and allow them to do their jobs well.
You don’t need to think about empowering people if you have a system that lets people take pride in what they do. If you think you need to empower staff, instead fix the system that requires you to think they are in need of empowerment.
Comic by Joe Sayers, Wanna play work?