That Empower Word AgainBy: Jim Clemmer
Managers proclaim they want to move decision making down the organization and give frontline people more freedom. But employees who have seen management trends come and go figure: "If we lay low long enough, this too shall pass."
Cynicism aside, highly involved workers can produce huge gains in quality, service, productivity and innovation. Yet many well-aimed efforts fail because they try to leap to an empowerment utopia without first putting the basics in place.
Empowerment is too often confused with superficial motivation programs designed to "turn on" employees. Snappy slogans, training sessions, newsletters, or pep rallies exhort employees to care about customers, put quality first, or "do it right the first time."
These efforts reveal management's profound ignorance of the causes of poor performance. Research consistently shows 85 to 95 percent of the service, quality, or productivity problems originate in the organization's structure and processes.
There is a right way to create a highly involved and empowered work force, but it takes enormous effort:
Typically, employees are organized into improvement teams and hear senior executives asking for input. When they return to their jobs, they find their bosses still steeped in authoritarian attitudes.
In addition, many empowerment efforts suffer from lack of "enablement." That is, employees are not well trained, systems hinder more than help work teams and service providers, and processes are riddled with errors or delays.
As management expert Peter Drucker says, "so much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work." Managers can "empower" or zap employees until their hair is smoking. Yet if those employees are not enabled to make a difference, empowerment will be seen as a way of loading management's failures on employees' backs.
© Copyright 2001 The CLEMMER Group
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