overused term "empowerment" is generating a high snicker
factor these days.
they want to move decision making down the organization and give
frontline people more freedom. But employees who have seen management
trends come and go figure: "If we lay low long enough, this
too shall pass."
highly involved workers can produce huge gains in quality, service,
productivity and innovation. Yet many well-aimed efforts fail
because they try to leap to an empowerment utopia without first
putting the basics in place.
is too often confused with superficial motivation programs designed
to "turn on" employees. Snappy slogans, training sessions,
newsletters, or pep rallies exhort employees to care about customers,
put quality first, or "do it right the first time."
reveal management's profound ignorance of the causes of poor performance.
Research consistently shows 85 to 95 percent of the service, quality,
or productivity problems originate in the organization's structure
There is a
right way to create a highly involved and empowered work force,
but it takes enormous effort:
must develop coaching and leadership skills among supervisors,
managers and executives. Management training is the key to developing
a culture that encourages and supports workers' initiative.
many employee-involvement efforts fail in effectively involving
middle managers and supervisors. As Harvard Business School professor,
Rosabeth Moss Kanter puts it: "Participation is usually what
the top orders the middle to do for the bottom."
employees are organized into improvement teams and hear senior
executives asking for input. When they return to their jobs, they
find their bosses still steeped in authoritarian attitudes.
many empowerment efforts suffer from lack of "enablement."
That is, employees are not well trained, systems hinder more than
help work teams and service providers, and processes are riddled
with errors or delays.
expert Peter Drucker says, "so much of what we call management
consists of making it difficult for people to work." Managers
can "empower" or zap employees until their hair is smoking.
Yet if those employees are not enabled to make a difference, empowerment
will be seen as a way of loading management's failures on employees'
must have skills to clarify their own expectations - and those
of customers. They must be able to analyze their work processes,
and to use problem-solving tools and techniques that are based
on performance data.
to develop "people skills" such as how to resolve conflicts,
present their ideas, participate on teams, and constructively
must be set. Senior executives must focus the organization on
the improvements or areas of attention that are of greatest
ideas should be evaluated and "owned" by the work groups
who have to put them into action. This calls for strong senior
management support in providing skills and information - and to
eliminate barriers against implementing the changes.
must align its systems - for reward and recognition, performance
management, planning, and information management - to support
systems serve accountants, technocrats, or management. Get the
cart behind the horse. Systems should serve customers or those
producing, delivering, or supporting your products or services.
appeared in Jim's column in The Globe & Mail. Jim Clemmer
is a bestselling author and internationally acclaimed keynote
speaker, workshop/retreat leader, and management team developer
on leadership, change, customer focus, culture, teams, and personal