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Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Power of Empowerment in the Workplace

I don't get it. Why would a manager not empower their employees? I didn't think I even have to talk about the benefits of empowerment. In fact it took me long to write about this subject matter because I thought it was too elementary.

What changed my mind? I've been encountering too many situations lately where lack of empowerment is causing some companies to slowdown, make wrong decisions or lose good people. Let me cite some instances.

In one company, a Country Manager micro manages everything including work performed by very junior managers. As a result, bills are not paid on time, some decisions that can be made at certain levels are refered to him causing delay and frustrations. It causes managers to leave the company, sometimes soon after they accepted the job.

In another, American bosses situated on the other side of the earth make decisions for their Philippine operation while very senior managers who have better understanding of the culture on this side of the planet are accountable for results but do not have enough authority to make things happen.

I could go on and on about some companies' lack of nimbleness that can be attributed to absence of empowerment but that's not the purpose of this blog. My purpose is for managers like me to recognize the power of empowerment and utilize them in the workplace as much as they can.

What is empowerment? If you Google it, you'll come out with so many answers so let me share the description that I know and the one I am referring to in this topic.

Empowerment is the delegation of responsibility, accountability and authority necessary to succeed in one's work. Now, a lot goes into making that happen. That is because just delegating per se won't cut it. The person giving the empowerment may cause the one being given power to fail if that person is not ready for empowerment. Factors like ability, readiness and willingness are critical to success of delegating responsibilities, accountability and authority. It starts therefore in hiring the right person, ensuring that, that person has the tools to make things happen and providing that person all the necessary support to gain confidence in what she is doing. This includes allowing the person to make mistakes and learn from them. This is tricky because we all know how expensive some mistakes can get.Sometimes we just can't allow them to make those mistakes so we become more controlling. The only way however, for the people we are leading to not make mistakes is for us managers to make the mistakes ourselves. If we are leading a lot of people, that would be a lot of mistakes on our part. This is why a lot of failures can be traced back to the inability of top leaders to make right decisions or their failure to make right decisions on time. I've seen it in my recruitment business. We've lost quite a number of great candidates because the top manager had to decide on the employment of people several rungs below him when the prospective immediate superior could have made that decision. By the time the top manager becomes available to interview a candidate, he has already accepted a job offer elsewhere.

I have seen the power of empowerment in my own team. I am able to do what I'm able to do because I've spread problem solving and decision making among my team members. It has a lot of benefits. People understand their responsibilities, are accountable for them and know that they can do whatever is necessary within the bounds of the company resources to make things happen. It frees me to focus on strategizing and more development works. It also frees me to coach. If you are doing a lot the decision making in the company, I assure you, it will very difficult to coach.

I enjoin you to look at how much empowerment you are giving your employees and resolve to ready them for empowerment. It makes their job more meaningful and yours less cumbersome.

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