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What does it really mean to 'empower' your staff? Or do you run a 'disempowered' workplace?


The term empowerment within the context of a business organisation is one that is much misunderstood and misdirected.

What does it mean to ‘empower’ your staff?  What does an empowered team look like and how will it help the business achieve?

These are all interesting questions, and one’s that deserve considerable thought, both from a business owner’s and an employee’s perspective.

Empowerment can be defined as ‘to give power to’. But this limited definition does not go anywhere near providing us with an understanding of the absolute opportunities inherent within an empowered workforce.

I can also hear some business owners out there screaming, “I’ll be blowed if I am going to give away my power… this is my business.”

Similarly, employees will no doubt say, “This is not my company, I don’t want power. That’s the bosses role.”

Perhaps then, instead of trying to determine what an empowered workplace looks like, we should examine what one is not.

Or, in other words, what are the symptoms associated with a disempowered workplace?

What is a disempowered workplace?

A disempowered workplace will have some (if not all) of the following symptoms:

  • A lot of ‘buck passing’;
  • ‘Them & Us’ mentality;
  • Conversation stops when a manager walks in;
  • Clock watching;
  • Not a safe environment to offer ideas/feedback;
  • Low trust & high control (bureaucracy) and
  • Too much time spent in meetings, conferences and on-the-fly discussions.

Based, therefore, on the above, I would define empowerment in the work place like this:

Empowerment is not just giving people more power.  Empowerment motivates, releases ability and expands potential.

What is an empowered workplace?

Based on this definition, we can then discover exactly what an empowered (and more functional) workplace should look like. The main identifiers are as follows:

  • Open (improved) communication
  • Trust (improved)
  • People take responsibility
  • “Can do” attitude
  • Abundant ideas
  • Take (acceptable) risks/innovate
  • Safe work environment

Given these positive identifiers, the question then becomes, “How do we transition from our current state to that of a highly empowered workplace where we can exhibit and demonstrate these practises?”

Well, like any change with an organisational or departmental context, nothing will happen until there is a real change in the way the managers and staff members ‘think’ about these issues. And more important than that is the willingness for everyone to participate in the process of change.

Remember the age-old saying, “If you keep doing the same things, don’t be surprised if you get the same results as before.”

Six ways to create an empowered workplace

Creating an empowered workplace can be achieved through a number of identifiable steps:

  1. Ensure the whole organisation is clear on your vision/mission – this can be achieved through the communication of clear and simple organisational goals and aligning team members’ career goals and aspirations to these organisational objectives.
  2. Identify Empowerment-Aligned values (desired behaviours) – where practical and reasonable, team members’ points of view are canvassed on decisions that affect them.
  3. Create a set of Aligned Goals – Organisational, Divisional, Department and Individual – these include clear personal, financial and responsibility limits, as well as clear customer service standards.
  4. Identify and Implement Empowering Practices – institute reporting systems of organisational/departmental progress and systems of personal progress (Performance Development Reviews)
  5. Hire Empowerment oriented people – then support them by having an inventory of training needs, a plan for each team member and good equipment/resources to do the job.
  6. Empowering Leadership – Management should “walk the talk” when it comes to organisational values and practice effective communication (listen, understand, stay open and empathise).
  7. Customer Perspective – have an empowered process for handling customer complaints, measure and benchmark customer satisfaction levels and provide customer service training programs for the staff.

Through an empowered workplace you will not only have the benefits of enhanced productivity but you can literally watch how quickly your reputation grows among your customers and clients!

Not only that, you will see how quickly your organisation becomes ‘an employer of choice’ among the people you will be hiring. Happy staff are productive staff, the solution is simple.

Stephen Chong is a professional development coach and trainer, published author and inspirational speaker who believes his greatest achievement is “enjoying success through the success of others”. www.stephenchong.com.au

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