Empowerment: A Leadership Competency

Empowerment is a buzz term that we hear a lot about in leadership.

Empowerment is defined as “the giving or delegation of power or authority; authorization; the giving of an ability; enablement or permission.”

Empowerment is based on the belief that employees have the ability and want to take on more responsibility.  Empowerment is a way to give employees greater authority and responsibility to take care of the needs of the customer and to provide employees with the means for making influential decisions.

Everyone within an organization should be involved in managing customer expectations and improving quality.  Empowered employees understand their role in supporting the vision by taking care of the needs of the customers.

Joseph Juran (one of the early quality gurus) defined empowerment as “conferring the right to make decisions and take action.”

Characteristics of an Empowerment Culture:

  • Top management needs to be committed to supporting a healthy and empowered culture.  This includes developing an organizational definition of empowerment that may include well defined boundaries and management training on how to coach empowered employees.
  • Employee empowerment should be centered on customer needs.   When employees are empowered to make decisions that help the customer, they are contributing to the strategy and business objectives of the organization.
  • It is important that management hands over a level of the decision making power.   This may be something as simple as allowing an employee to make service recovery decisions.
  • Provide training of new responsibilities.  Training may include customer service, problem solving, negotiation and conflict resolution skills.
  • Empowered employees need access to information and data that can be used in decision making.   This might include feedback from customer satisfaction surveys or customer comment cards that provide information that can help make customer-focused decisions.
  • It is important for managers to have trust and confidence in the employee.  A manager that second-guesses an employee’s decisions can impact the confidence the employee has in their decision making ability.
  • Authority and decision making responsibility needs to come with specific expectations and boundaries.  For example, an employee may be empowered to correct a situation for a customer up to a certain dollar amount.
  • It is important to provide the employee with good mentors.  Mentors should be someone who has successfully done something that the employee is learning to do.  For example, if an employee is learning to be empowered to perform service recovery, their mentor should be someone who has learned the critical thinking skills to assess different situations and come to reasonable conclusions.
  • As employees develop their skills, it is important to provide positive reinforcement and coaching as they maneuver different decision making scenarios.  We all make mistakes when we first begin making decisions so it is important to provide good coaching and positive reinforcement.
  • Compensation and performance should be aligned around customer needs.  This reinforces an employee’s motivation to make the right decisions.
  • Social style training has taught us that it is important to match employee competencies with job responsibilities.   Using an effective assessment tool like DISC or Myers Briggs can help identify employee strengths.
  • In order for employees to be effective, they need the appropriate tools and equipment to do their job.   Some employees are very vocal about their needs but others will work with aging antiquated equipment and never speak up.  Assessing changing technology and equipment should be part of an organization’s strategy.
  • As employees transition into an empowerment environment, a good implementation plan is critical to its success.   Implementation should be mapped out and a timeline for all aspects should be written so all understand the timing and process of implementation.

Lastly, organizations with strong empowerment models show that productivity and customer satisfaction improves within an empowered culture.

Theodore Roosevelt said “the best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

photo courtesy of Lincolian (Brian)

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