Improving Employee Empowerment

By Hildula, Leslie | The CPA Journal, January 1996 | Go to article overview

Improving Employee Empowerment


Hildula, Leslie, The CPA Journal


Empowering employees to improve your organization will require greater amounts of communication than you ever thought possible. It will ask that you not only increase the amount of time you personally spend giving and receiving information, but also that you improve your style and methods of communicating. In addition, the communications structure within your organization will need to change.

For example, you wish that your employees cared more about the well-being of the firm. You would like them to propose more solutions to problems instead of just complaining to you and waiting for you to fix them. Well, to do so, employees need access to the kind of information that makes you capable of problem-solving. What are the firm's resources and plans? What parameters are we working within that affect our problem solving? If all your employees know where the firm is going and what resources the firm has to get there, they too will be able to develop solutions that make sense.

If all this sounds time--consuming; you're right, it is. But so are customer complaints and organizational conflicts. Companies practicing employee empowerment have found it well worth the investment of manager's time spent communicating with employees.

Companies committed to employee empowerment provide more information in greater detail than the average company. One firm, a film processing lab with 120 employees, posts charts that show financial results and sales trends per product line. The senior management meets monthly with employee groups to share business issues and answer questions. Every employee's compensation is partially affected by how well their particular product line performs in the marketplace.

A construction company, that also runs very profitable service and manufacturing operations, holds quarterly planning ses sions. All employees are invited to a Saturday breakfast, unpaid but hosted by the company, where their department's performance is reviewed. Problems are discussed, successes celebrated, plans made, and full participation is encouraged in this process. All financial information is open to all employees, including wages. The owners feel that if an employee thinks they should be making as much as someone else, then that employee can freely discuss that with their manager. The management believes that if their compensation is fair and adequate, no apologies or secrets are necessary.

Another principle of employee empowerment that strongly affects communication channels within a company is the "twenty foot rule." This rule states that the best people to solve a problem are those people who work within twenty feet of the issue. So, if client reports are reaching your desk late or with errors, then the best approach to take is to bring employees together who are part of the process of preparing and delivering that report. That is, it's not an issue that management can solve alone. They lack valuable information that only the people with their hands on the process can provide. If we don't involve the people who actually do the work in the problem-solving process, then we won't reach the most effective solution or have the solution implemented smoothly without resistance. As Stephen Covey succinctly said, "No involvement, no commitment. …

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