Management of Employee Empowerment

By Maxwell, James R. | Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Management of Employee Empowerment

Maxwell, James R., Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict


As we move ahead in today's fast paced business environment, it is imperative for an organization to have a highly skilled, competent, satisfied work force. In order to obtain such employees, an organization must offer education programs, let employees be involved with decision-making and have adequate reward systems. This new type of management style is called Employee Empowerment. To achieve this new management technique, the organization, as a whole, must undergo an extensive transformation process. Empowering employees is a top-down change that must begin with management. The purpose of this paper is to examine this process and make some recommendations for how managers can approach and implement a sound employee empowerment program.


Today's business environment is becoming more and more competitive. The onslaught of the global market place has raised the stakes for U.S. businesses. If today's companies are to be competitive they must be more agile and inventive in their quest to lower costs and increase value to the customer. A key method companies are using to tackle these daunting tasks is unleashing their most powerful weapon, their employees. By empowering teams of employees, companies are using their greatest asset to its highest potential and, in return, are becoming more competitive in the emerging global economy.

When Xerox Corporation's dominance in the photocopier market was challenged by Japanese competitors more than 15 years ago, Xerox responded by harnessing the full power of its work force. A change in the management style of the employees that allowed them to participate in management decisions was the key to Xerox's comeback. Since Xerox has implemented policies of employee empowerment, they have posted impressive results. In 1989, Xerox won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award; and, from 1993 until 1994, their return on assets rose 3.5 points (Profile: Xerox Corporation Ohio Consumer Business Unit, Training & Development, 1996).

It is vital to have a work force with potential, but how do you get your employees to perform at their highest ability? A work environment consisting of empowerment will help keep top employees and will attract new, high quality employees. Empowering employees can be the key in turning an average employee into an exceptional one. Empowered employees are usually happier; and, therefore, more likely to stay (Blanchard, O'Connor & Ballard (2003).

"... The difference between mediocre and excellent [employees] depends on how the employee is managed" (Blanchard, et. al. (2003). The job of an empowering manager is more similar to that of a coach than that of a traditional manager. The manager's mission is to unlock the potential of every person within the organization. Motivated, empowered employees are more productive. They are able to use their own innovation to streamline inefficient processes and policies, saving both you and your customers' money.

While employee empowerment is a relatively new topic in management, the emphasis on teams is by no means unique. Historical roots for this movement can be traced to the school of human relations in the early 1930s. As mentioned in the article "Beyond Teams and Empowerment: A Counterpoint to Two Common Precepts in TQM" by Karukonda, Watson, & Rajkamur (1999), the authors made a key argument advanced by Mary Parker Follet that man can overcome his physical, biological and environmental limitations through a system of cooperation, rather than competition. Empowered teams involve a particular configuration of work structures, practices and processes. Companies organize workflow around key business processes and often create teams to carry out those processes. The emphasis of this system is on a horizontal organization with strong customer orientation. Therefore, its basic premise is to create "an internal environment that supports customer needs and expectations" (Varma, Beatty, Schneier & Ulrich, 1999, p. …

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