Empowerment — Fuhgetaboutit
By George Anderson
It’s one of those words you hear all the time from executives and employee motivation gurus — empowerment.
The idea behind the word is simple. Give employees the authority to make decisions and personal responsibility and creativity will bloom.
The reality, however, rarely matches the rhetoric. Oh, it’s not that employees aren’t responsible or able to come up with innovative solutions to business issues. Instead, writes Lior Arussy in The Power to Serve (Customer Relationship Management, May 2005), most companies are unwilling to truly empower employees because sometimes people make mistakes.
As one person said in a consulting session with Mr. Arussy, president of Strativity Group and author of Passion & Profitable: Why Customer Strategies Fail and 10 Steps to Do Them Right, “In our company we are all empowered…to make right decisions.”
The need to be right all the time, writes the author, means that many shy away from making any decisions at all.
There are also personal obstacles to creating empowered organizations.
For one, many managers believe that giving more autonomy to direct reports diminishes their authority. According to Mr. Arussy, “They view authority as a zero-sum game — the more they give, the less they have.”
Employees too, do not always want the responsibility that comes with being empowered to make decisions. Risk-aversion is strongly ingrained in many companies and individuals.
Ultimately, developing a truly empowered business team means embracing change and being willing to make mistakes.
For companies seeking to match the reality to their empowerment rhetoric, Mr. Arussy offers this advice. “As you approach the changes required to empower your people, remember that both employees and managers need to be addressed. Think about your company’s approach to mistakes: What happened to people who made mistakes…”
“Mistakes are the result of employees who take risks — the types of risks that will lead to excellence and breakthrough,” he writes. “Do not crush that spirit, embrace it.”
Moderator’s Comment: Is employee empowerment all it’s cracked up to be? Do empowered organizations perform better than those that are not? What companies
in retail and related businesses best exemplify the empowered organization? How is this demonstrated in their corporate culture and business practices? –
George Anderson – Moderator