Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > empowerment is not a panacea

empowerment is not a panacea

“Empower your people” is a commonly heard cry and has been for a few years now, but is it really what you want to do?

The first problem most people have with implementing any form of empowering the workforce is that they don’t think through what they want to achieve from doing it. Empowerment has become such a clarion cry that the principle has become a panacea solution; all you need to do is empower your workforce and everything will suddenly be better. Your competition will crumble in the wake of your improvement as customers flock to your doors.

In reality it won’t happen unless you think through want you want to achieve by empowering people and a starting point is to consider what power you are going to grant them. Empowerment carries responsibility and you need to be sure that the people you are empowering are equipped and ready to handle that responsibility. If they don’t have it now are you sure that they all want it, because not everyone will for it is one thing to recruit someone into a role where they know when they apply that they will be empowered, but if you have someone who is happy in their current role and performing it perfectly satisfactorily they may become very unhappy if you change their job. I have too often seen the performance of certain individuals fall away when ill-conceived empowerment is forced upon them.

Another issue with poorly though through empowerment is that it involves a devolution of power from those who have it now to those who will have it in future and those giving it up have to be ready to do so. If they aren’t then the empowering of others will just not work; have you ever seen a situation where a micro-manager is told to roll out empowerment? The results are not pretty. Empowerment is as much about organisational culture as it is about individuals.

Empowerment is a tool after all and like all tools it only works if you use it in the right way and for the right purpose. If you can get it right then it is a wonderfully useful thing and can bring enormous benefit to the people that the organisation serves. Getting it right, like so many things, is not always as easy as it might seem.


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