Empowerment in Your Organization

You've heard the word empowerment and perhaps your organization has tried to move its working culture and style to this strange but growing concept. But you and your coworkers, like the rest of us, grew up in a different system ... one rooted in hierarchy, clear lines of managerial control, authority, and responsibility. You've been told that empowerment will change things and you may be feeling some discomfort, but also, perhaps, some intrigue about what all this means.  

There are many misconceptions about what empowerment is and is not as it relates to the workplace. This stems from its rather broad definition-to authorize, allow, permit, or delegate authority. Our definition of empowerment is to create an environment where people can function without rigid hierarchy and are rewarded for using good judgment. In today's fast-paced, rapidly changing workplace, communication in the traditional command-and-control hierarchy simply moves too slowly. Multiple levels of approval slow decision-making, and inhibit the taking of action when necessary.

Additionally, the need to work more effectively with less direct supervision is of paramount importance. Organizations simply cannot compete successfully with excessive levels of management. Moving key decisions closer to the work makes good business sense and is at the core of empowerment. Understanding and defining empowerment means taking the definition above and expanding it to include releasing the power that people have in their knowledge, experience, and internal motivation. For example, a supervisor we know spent valuable time approving small purchases of tools and supplies for his group. When his organization began implementing empowerment concepts, he delegated these purchases to his team. In other words, he allowed them to submit these orders directly without his approval. Initially, he placed boundaries on the purchase such as a cost limit of $100, but later widened the boundary as his team’s comfort level with responsibility grew.  His team felt empowered.

"Power, like light, is infinite. Power is never used up ... it increases bydiffusion and grows by dispersion.Empowerment begins with theunderstanding that to empower is not to lose power but to gain power.Power shared is power gained."William J. Graham