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Susan M. Heathfield

Search for the Guilty and Empowerment

By September 9, 2013

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After years of writing this website and covering just about every imaginable topic in HR - okay, so I'm still missing a few - certain articles stand out for their value contribution. This is one of them.

Employee empowerment is a business strategy that brings organization decision making closest in your organization to where employees have knowledge of the details of the situation and the need to make a decision. Employee empowerment differs from top down decision making in that the employees who need the decision generally make the decision.

This freaks out managers who have a need to command and control - please examine that need if you are one of them. But, there are ways to maintain control of employee empowerment. Control - wrong word. Channel employee empowerment by knowing how and when to empower employees and using effective delegation as your leadership style.

Organizations that empower employees benefit from increased employee commitment and engagement. Most importantly, they promote responsibility and accountability in their employees, two of the significant foundations for business success. They do this by following the ten key recommendations that I make in the Top 10 Principles of Employee Empowerment.

One of these guidelines I often cite has to do with solving problems not identifying problem people. How many times in your organization have you seen a manager go on a search to identify the guilty employee when a problem occurs? It's not pretty, is it? And, unfortunately or predictably, employees hide out, lie, point fingers blaming each other, make up excuses, and duck responsibility. They exhibit totally CYA behavior. And, honestly, who can blame them?

This is exactly the opposite of the behavior you seek to elicit and develop by empowering employees. So, change your response to problems. When a problem occurs, ask what is wrong with the work system that caused the people to fail, not what is wrong with the people. Worst case response to problems? Seek to identify and punish the guilty. That'll team 'em. Right. (Thank you, Dr. Deming.)

Are your employees empowered? If not, why not?

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