Magazine article Training & Development

How Much Empowerment Is Too Much or Not Enough?

Magazine article Training & Development

How Much Empowerment Is Too Much or Not Enough?

Article excerpt

In HRD, we've used such buzzwords as "MBO," "sensitivity training," "transactional analysis," "MBWA," "QWL," "quality circles," "participative management," and "employee involvement". All of these have been in vogue at different times and have had varying degrees of effectiveness in improving productivity and morale. Now, "empowerment" is the magic solution.

Tom Peters expounds on the success of such organizations as Johnsonville Sausage of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Johnsonville has found that self-directed work teams are the answer to production and morale problems.

The idea is to give nonmanagement employees the freedom to make decisions without any supervision. Obviously, there is great merit in giving decision making authority to frontline employees. It is one of the highest forms of recognition and reward that a person can get for outstanding performance. But when is empowerment too much--or perhaps not enough?

A policy statement at Honeywell states that decision making should be delegated to the lowest appropriate level. The word "appropriate" encourages a manager to delegate this authority, but allows the manager to decide when and how much. Is this wise?

In doing research on my new Management Inventory on Leadership, Motivation, and Decision Making, I presented well-known consultants, HRD practitioners, and supervisors with the following choice.

Decisions by managers can be made in four different ways:

* The manager decides without any input from subordinates.

* Before making a decision, a manager asks subordinates for input, considers it, and then decides.

* A manager conducts a problem solving meeting with subordinates, and the decision is made by consensus, with the manager getting only one vote. In other words, it is a group decision.

* A manager empowers subordinates to make their own decision.

The answers varied, depending on who was responding. For all three groups, the second approach--in which a manager asks for input before making a decision--was the most popular. It was the choice for consultants 33 percent of the time, for HRD practitioners 30 percent of the time, and for supervisors 36 percent of the time. The first approach --the most directive approach--was the least popular. Even so, it was still the choice in at least 12 percent of cases, depending on who was responding.

What do the figures reveal? The answers were all across the board, indicating a wide difference of opinion on the use of the four approaches among all three groups. Who is right? There is no right or wrong percentage. Rather, each manager should consider various factors to determine, "What is right for me?"

Here are some of the factors to consider in order to answer that question.

Culture of the organization. Look at the philosophy of management, particularly at the top of the organization. How much encouragement is there for managers at all levels to delegate the decision making process and get employees to participate? What kind of example does top management set?

When more participation is exemplified and encouraged, more decisions can be made using the third and fourth approaches--in which the group or the employees decide.

Need for assistance. Some decisions cannot work without a great deal of acceptance. Employees can make or break some decisions by their attitude and enthusiasm in implementing them. …

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