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Who Has the Responsibility?

July 10, 2014
Stephen Nelson, MBA, CPIM


There has been much made about the concept of job/employee empowerment. “Power to the Employee!” But what does that really mean? Does the employee really have the authority coupled with the responsibility to create meaningful change in their actual work space? Has management really entrusted their employees to enact the steps that they see necessary to improve the processes within their purview?

In business, job enrichment, job enlargement, and employee empowerment are big key terms. But what do they really mean? Mainly, focusing on job/employee empowerment it is the “The practice of giving non-managerial employees the responsibility and the power to make decisions regarding their jobs or tasks.” (Blackstone, 2008) But does this really happen in todays’ jobs? Many companies espouse the concepts of employee empowerment on paper, but due to some of the metrics that are used to measure actual performance, management tends to limit their employee’s ability in their actual work areas.

Companies that have applied empowerment techniques are able to realize meaningful improvement objectives. In a study conducted by Prof. Stanley, from Pepperdine University, when evaluating the “The 100 Best Companies to Work For”. Companies that were analyzed, as a sub-set of 40 empowered companies appear to maximize corporate wealth (Stanley, 2005). As a recommendation, Prof. Stanley adds, “Executives must adopt a policy of empowerment of employees through meaningful communication, willingness to serve, and common purpose.” (Stanley, 2005) Additionally, in a 2001 Canadian study, 355 respondents noted an “Overall Empowerment Score” of .40 with delegation versus a -.64 score with centralization (Menon, 2001). But these results depended on the respondent being in a cognitive state in relation to the empowerment efforts (Menon, 2001). This means for efficacy, the employee is actually involved and understands the role that they play in company along with their level of authority. To achieve this the employee must be given the tools to enrich their job, instilled with an understanding of how their actions effect the organization, and entrusted to improve the process with faith and authority bestowed by management. Without these the term Employee Empowerment, is just that, a term.

In many ways this these are the results of education. By education, this does not mean sending each employee to the local university or community college. While these educational institutions are important in the development of professional skills and education, some companies may not have the time or resources to take this route. Instead, many companies may rely on local professional organizations and online trainings. Groups such as APICS, NAPM and ASQ have online and site courses, short seminars or workshops that can educate employees on their roles in a company, give them a better understanding of the total business environment, and instill them with a desire to make improvement to their jobs for their company.

By educating and continuously improving employees, organizations will net the benefits of constant improvement. Employees will be kept abreast of the changing marketplace and improved processes. This will also have the effect of instilling a sense of the trust that the company, and management, has in them to invest in their professional knowledge and development. In most cases, that will results in a greater sense of ownership for the job and a desire to help the company grow and excel.

It is important to note that while empowerment is important. There are also negative effects that can occur that an organizations must be wary of. Issues such as increased arrogance, increased risks confidentiality, and negative effects on interpersonal relationships can arise with incorrect implementation (Robertson). These can negate the performance of an empowerment program and again stress the important of education and training prior to execution. With proper training, implementation and management support a company will be able to garner the most buy-in, involvement and positive effects of an employee/job empowerment program.

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Reference:
Blackstone, J. H. (2008). APICS dictionary (12th ed.). Athens, GA: APICS.

Stanley, D. (2005) The Impact of Empowered Employees on Corporate Value. Graziadio Business Review, 8. Retrieved July 10, 2014, from http://gbr.pepperdine.edu/2010/08/empowered-employees/

Menon, S. T. (2001). Employee empowerment: An integrative psychological approach. Potsdam, NY: Applied Psychological.}

Robertson, T. (n.d.). http://smallbusiness.chron.com/negative-effects-employee-empowerment-18691.html. Retrieved July 11, 2014, from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/negative-effects-employee-empowerment-18691.html