and even customer focus. These once sincere efforts to improve performance are now mostly forgotten. Empowerment, however, is different.
Unlike other fads, I believe the desire of all employees to be empowered will only grow over time, and organizations that do not take this concept seriously are ultimately at risk.
Empowerment is difficult to define. Based on recent research, it is probably best understood as a two-sided coin. One side is what managers can do to share power and information, seek input, provide opportunities for increased decision making, etc. The other side is how individuals actually feel about their jobs.
Clearly, the two sides of the empowerment coin are related. Research has shown that if managers do provide more information, autonomy and opportunities for input and decision-making, then employees will feel more job-related meaning, impact, self-determination and confidence.
The research is also clear on the outcomes of employee empowerment. Substantial improvements in innovation, productivity, quality, customer satisfaction, cost reduction and morale have all been well-documented.
So, why is empowerment not a passing fad? First, people will always desire the right to influence what happens to them. Empowerment involves workers having control over their jobs, using their own judgment and not being told excessively how to do things. Our desire for job-related empowerment is essentially an extension of our natural psychological need for self-control and autonomy.
Second, younger workers expect it. Their attitude toward work presumes that respect, opportunity to have impact and personal meaning are givens. If these workers feel expendable and their contributions are not valued, they will leave. And even in today's economy, high turnover is lethal.
Finally, empowerment is not a fad because smart managers know it improves performance and morale. The data, frankly, are mixed on the long-term benefits of re-engineering and tqm. They are not mixed on empowerment. Organizations serious about high performance will, sooner or later, have to consider sharing power with employees.
To improve both sides of the empowerment coin, consider these suggestions: Share lots of information with all levels, including, for example, data on performance, expenses, competition, customer feedback. Set clear boundaries. Be clear on the important policies/processes, the limits of authority and the priority of respective goals. Support self-managing teams. Where possible, delegate whole projects to empowered teams. Let them define the goals and measures. Don't over-control things. Given empowerment, people may select an approach you don't like. Your integrity rests on how you respond. If their idea is truly unacceptable, coach them so that they decide what to change. Let people exercise their "decision muscles." Give choices, in as many areas as possible, so people can strengthen their capacity to make decisions.
Be a coach. Ensure that people understand the "Big Picture" and how they fit into it. Provide needed resources and support. Give constant feedback, positive and constructive, and ask lots of questions to stimulate learning.