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The Seven Elements Of Employee Empowerment


Wayne L. Douchkoff
Wayne L. Douchkoff, Executive Vice President Professionals for Technology Associates, Inc. 2273 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL 33409, 407/687-0455.

80th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1995 - Anaheim, California

Employee empowerment is not a "feel-good" program baked up by so-called New Agers. It is a practical strategy that the leading companies in this country have developed and employed with phenomenal success. We have worked with a number of companies in various industries in developing seven elements which can be used to accurately observe and measure indices normally thought to be purely subjective. These elements are Authority, Resources, Information Access, Skill Set, Alignment, Self-Determination, and Accountability. Based on experience gathered in the field, we have arranged each of these elements along an axis which indicates the strengths and weaknesses present in a company's empowerment program. Having diagnosed the areas of opportunity, the tool then allows a company to devise a strategy for bringing the different elements into a synchronous whole. This prescriptive tool enables a company to make the choices which are right for its particular set of circumstances. Our thrust is to present a method whereby a company can achieve a well-balanced employee empowerment program.

A new organizational culture is required in which people feel free to take the initiative when approaching upper management with problems and ideas for solving them. An "open-ear" policy is an integral part of this new environment. We say "open-ear" because an "open-door" policy often doesn't have the desired result of producing a policy of listening. In fact, the eventual outcome of this new culture of which we speak is to have teams which are self-governing. Such teams don't need to walk through management's door for authority to solve problems. They should have been given that mandate long ago. Management's primary job in the future is to be an internal "consultant" who helps to facilitate change.

It will be necessary to evaluate present organizational structures in order to promote this policy. People need to feel that management has given them the authority, responsibility and resources to put their ideas into action. Even physical barriers which emphasize status such as office size and location must be reconsidered. Managers and engineers will need to sit on the factory floor in order to encourage more direct involvement. The list of things which need changing is different for each company, but the methodology discussed here is typical of all businesses.

Figure 1 provides a clear idea of what we are discussing. Specifically, the graph shows how a team gains responsibility and authority as management releases excessive control. Below the graphical representation of this shift are seven checkpoints along the path of people empowerment. Another way to look at these steps is to think of them as a spectrum as shown in Figure 2.

In the empowerment methodology, people are considered the primary resource for furthering productivity. Employees are encouraged to take the initiative in identifying problems and proposing solutions. Through participation in teams, people at all levels offer their unique expertise in a cooperative, problem solving process.

People involvement/empowerment can be viewed as a spectrum from 1 to 10 with suggestion programs on the left side at 3 and self-governing work teams on the extreme right side at 10. Teams of people who develop solutions and then ask management for approval would rate a 6 on this spectrum.

Management should work toward moving their company to the right of this spectrum. Whether attaining 10 or not, you should realize that improvements will occur as you move along the spectrum.

Building on the definitions above, we can now present the Diagnostic Sourcing Worksheet as shown in Figure 3. To use this diagram, a company looks at each of the seven elements in turn and decides where on the "Supervisor-Team" spectrum it lands. When each of these elements are filled out, the company gets a profile of their empowerment program. This information can then be used to prescribe courses of action which will remedy the problems.

What follows are some brief definitions of what we mean by each of the elements above.

  • Authority -- ability of a team to take action, e.g. to budget, to have access to a petty cash fund, etc.
  • Self-determination -- ability of a team to decide what problems to work on and what methods are the best ones to use.
  • Alignment -- a scale which measures how close an employee's personal needs are aligned to the organization's needs.
  • Skills -- the ability of a team to analyze and solve problems.
  • Resources -- those items necessary for a team to understand a problem and implement solutions; also, the time to work on solutions, access to manufacturing engineers, etc.
  • Information -- ability of a team to have access to information, computers, financial figures, etc.
  • Accountability -- a scale which measures the level of accountability for a team's actions and results.

In the example which follows, we see the filled-in section of a Diagnostic Sourcing Worksheet for a hypothetical company. Having gathered this information, the company would now be able to diagnose both its strengths and weaknesses and come up with an appropriate strategy for continuous improvement. For example, the company results in our example would indicate that teams should be given more education and training so that they would be able to improve upon their level of skills. This would, of course, also mean allotting more resources to the team so that they could embark upon self-improvement journeys.

In any organization, people develop a way of doing things and solving problems that seems to work, but is not always optimal. To an outside observer, in fact, the system may appear full of deficiencies as though it were slapped together with no thought or plan. Unfortunately, this and other ways of thinking become so ingrained that they become an accepted part of the corporate culture. And such practices are not always conducive to rooting out waste.

There is also a deep-rooted bias in management which teaches and rewards managers who concentrate solely on fixing problems instead of looking at how to improve processes. We call this the Firefighter vs. Smokey the Bear syndrome. The manager who is a firefighter reacts to crises; Smokey the Manager prevents them.

All too often, however, those companies that make changes have done so because they have been forced to respond to crises. We know a better way. Companies able to use the minds, talents and skills of their people, to involve and empower their employees, are the companies who will have prepared themselves for any eventuality in the future. The best methodology for the future is one which makes team culture and employee empowerment a way of life in your company, a new corporate culture for a new age in business.

NOTE: This article is missing charts. For a complete copy of the article, please call the NAPM Information Center.

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