The Structured Discipline of Empowerment

I  heard of “empowerment” for the first time in early 1969 and it began to revolutionize the way I worked with families, groups and organizations.  Then later came the fad, the OD Flavor-Of-The-Month version and I got pretty frustrated.  I do not believe that “empower” was ever intended by the original authors to be a transitive verb, but to be more like “motivate”.  We cannot empower someone any more than we can motivate someone:  we can only create the conditions in which a person or a group self-empowers or self-motivates. Nowadays, unfortunately, many bosses think empowerment is synonymous with delegation, or responsibility without authority, while reports often think that it is an invitation to do anything he or she wants to do: authority without responsibility.

In his latest training publication, Dr. Timothy Bednarz, Ph.D. postulated five conditions for organizational empowerment:

Employees Understand What Is Expected of Them: Employees must learn to  appreciate that a transition to an empowered atmosphere is a pivotal change for the organization. Minimal efforts and contributions are no longer accepted—not in terms of a disciplinary approach but in terms of employees understanding their role in the company’s success and how individual efforts contribute to that success. Often these changes are greeted with skepticism, which changes once employees see that the leader’s words are backed by consistent actions.
 
Goals and Measurements Are Consistently Applied: A critical factor of the empowered environment is the consistent application of goals, standards and measurements. When this is implemented it creates an atmosphere of trust and credibility throughout the company because employees understand they are all being treated fairly and consistently. They know what is expected of them and how those efforts will be measured. If they fail to meet those standards, they know the consequences and are also aware that when they exceed the standards they will be rewarded and recognized.

Employees have the Skills and Tools to Perform Effectively: More than merely a word, empowerment is a method of tapping the human resources within an organization. Employees cannot work in this environment without first seeing and learning the concepts of empowerment and teamwork from their leadership. Leaders understand that a fully developed, empowered environment is a process that requires time to implement. It takes time to train, coach, monitor and develop the skills and tools that facilitate organizational change.
 
Frequent and Immediate Recognition of Contributions: Recognition is one of the most powerful motivators in the workplace. Leaders play a major role in this critical factor: while everyone expects to be recognized for their major successes, the real impact is when leaders celebrate and reward reports for their small contributions. When you actively search to catch employees doing something right and then reward them on the spot, the results are dramatic. The leader is facilitating change and empowerment by motivating and assisting the individual to meet his or her goals or objectives. This is in contrast to a manager or supervisor who is directing and disciplining employees only when they fail to perform. Contrasting the two styles highlights a differing focus on negative and positive behaviors.

Employees and Leaders Perform with Self-Discipline: Empowerment is a structured discipline within the organization. It allows employees to contribute their individual efforts at their maximum capabilities and thus allows the company to harness a largely untapped resource. Since it is a disciplined approach, everyone works together  within the parameters established by the goals, objectives, standards and measurements of the organization.  Barriers and constraints are removed, but all employees are still working within and toward the entire organization’s goals, and there must be consequences for those who choose to not respond with self-discipline.

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