Employee Empowerment

People talk about employee empowerment in many different ways, but the basic theme remains: give your employees the means for making important decisions, and making those decisions the right ones.

The results, when this process is done right, are heightened productivity and a better quality of work life.

Employee empowerment means different things in different organizations, based on culture and work design. However, empowerment is based on the concepts of job enlargement and job enrichment.

  • Job enlargement: Changing the scope of the job to include a greater portion of the horizontal process. Example: A bank teller not only handles deposits and disbursement, but also distributes traveler's checks and sells certificates of deposit.
  • Job enrichment: Increasing the depth of the job to include responsibilities that have traditionally been carried out at higher levels of the organization. Example: The teller also has the authority to help a client fill out a loan application, and to determine whether or not to approve the loan.

As these examples show, employee empowerment requires:

  • Training in the skills necessary to carry out the additional responsibilities.
  • Access to information on which decisions can be made.
  • Initiative and confidence on the part of the employee to take on greater responsibility.

Employee empowerment also means giving up some of the power traditionally held by management, which means managers also must take on new roles, knowledge and responsibilities.

It does not mean that management relinquishes all authority, totally delegates decision-making and allows operations to run without accountability. It requires a significant investment of time and effort to develop mutual trust, assess and add to individuals' capabilities and develop clear agreements about roles, responsibilities, risk taking and boundaries.

What does an empowered organizational structure look like?

Employee empowerment often also calls for restructuring the organization to reduce levels of the hierarchy or to provide a more customer – and process–focused organization.

Employee empowerment is often viewed as an inverted triangle of organizational power. In the traditional view, management is at the top while customers are on the bottom; in an empowered environment, customers are at the top while management is in a support role at the bottom.

Excerpted from The Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Handbook, pages 45-46.

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