Exploring Empowerment in the Workplace

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Written By: Janet Rock, Design & Development

Empowerment is a Propellus value. So I’ve spent a few years trying to find out what that means to me as an individual and a leader of a team and to our organization. The Business Dictionary defines empowerment as:

“A management practice of sharing information, rewards, and power with employees so that they can take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve service and performance.

Empowerment is based on the idea that giving employees skills, resources, authority, opportunity, motivation, as well holding them responsible and accountable for outcomes of their actions, will contribute to their competence and satisfaction.”

Sometimes empowerment is described is pushing our power and decision making to all staff instead of centering around a leader or leadership team. In my experience this works quite well when employees know and understand their roles and their own scope. I can feel a lot like stepping out of the way and then becoming very curious and interested, but it definitely doesn’t feel like “being a boss”.

Things don’t always go smoothly and I’m constantly learning the limitations of my own understanding. I’ve been thinking recently about these questions:

  • What happens when the things aren’t clear?
  • Can everyone really be empowered when we work on a team?
  • What kind of buy-in is required from everyone in the organization?
  • How do we make decisions quickly and in an adaptive way while still empowering everyone in their roles?

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David Marquet offers a suggestion to help guide some you through answering some of these questions in his article in Harvard Business Review, 6 Myths About Empowering Employees.

Luckily this isn’t a new idea and others have treaded before us. This article in the Economist examines a few ideas around failure and has great suggestions for further reading.

When I need to recalibrate, I remind myself of the idea that a person isn’t really just empowered for themselves. It’s not just letting everyone have their voice heard. We empower people to support out work of strengthening organizations and we empower not just individuals, but teams. Maintaining this orientation creates clarity and it helps me navigate when I’m not quite getting it right.

Want to talk to me about empowering employees? Let’s compare notes over a coffee. Reach me at jrock@propellus.org.

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