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Top Ten Ways to Make Employee Empowerment Fail

Five Reasons Employee Empowerment Fails


Designers in discussion around table
Zigy Kaluzny-Charles Thatcher/ The Image Bank/ Getty Images

Empowerment is a panacea for many organization ills – when empowerment is implemented with care. People in organizations say they want empowerment – and often, they mean it. Managers say they want employee empowerment – and often, they mean it, too.

Organizations that are committed to the ongoing growth of their employees, recognize employee empowerment as one of their most important strategic methods to motivate employees. Employee empowerment is also a key strategy to enable people who have the need, the answers, and the knowledge, to make decisions about how to best serve customers.

If employee empowerment is such a great tool and strategy for accomplishing work, customer service, and employee motivation, how come employee empowerment is so rarely implemented effectively? Here are my top ten reasons why employee empowerment fails. Check out the first five.

Why Employee Empowerment Fails

Managers pay lip service to employee empowerment, but do not really believe in its power. As with all management and business buzz words, employee empowerment can seem like a “good” thing to do. After all, well-respected management books recommend that you empower employees.

When you empower employees, they grow their skills and your organization benefits from their empowerment. Right. Employees know when you are serious about employee empowerment and when you understand and walk your talk. Half-hearted or unbelievable employee empowerment efforts will fail.

Managers don’t really understand what employee empowerment means. They have a vague notion that employee empowerment means you start a few teams that address workplace employee morale or safety issues. You ask people what they think about something at a meeting. You allow employees to help plan the company picnic. Wrong. Employee empowerment is a philosophy or strategy that enables people to make decisions about their job.

Managers fail to establish boundaries for employee empowerment. In your absence, what decisions can be made by staff members? What decisions can employees make day-by-day that they do not need to have permission or oversight to make? These boundaries must be defined or employee empowerment efforts fail.

Managers have defined the decision making authority and boundaries with staff, but then micromanage the work of employees. This is usually because managers don’t trust staff to make good decisions. Staff members know this and either craftily make decisions on their own and hide their results or they come to you for everything because they don’t know what they really can control.

One HR manager added ten days to the company hiring process because he required his signature at certain milestones in the process. The paperwork was buried on his desk for days, but staff did not proceed without his signature. His lack of trust made employee empowerment a joke. Do employees make mistakes? Certainly, but fooling them about their boundaries is worse.

Second guess the decisions of employees you have given the authority to make a decision. You can help staff make good decisions by coaching, training, and providing necessary information. You can even model good decision making, But, what you cannot do, unless a serious complication will result, is undermine or change the decision you had empowered a staff person to make. Teach the employee to make a better decision next time. But don’t undermine their faith in their personal competence and in your trust, support, and approbation. You discourage employee empowerment for the future.

Take a look at the second five reasons employee empowerment fails including failure to provide information and access.

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