Firms Need Empowered Workers

EMPOWERING the work force” is a catch phrase in the vision and mission statements of many companies today. Though this phrase was picked up from the United States, it tickles the Filipino imagination because it somehow connotes “people power.

In the Philippine Milieu, empowerment is a concept that is easy to dish out but hard to swallow. Management consultants prescribe it; management refuses to believe it.

Does empowerment really provide an organization a leading edge? Does it have a positive effect on the company’s bottom-line? Or is it just nice to have but not necessary for an organization’s success? These nagging questions need to be answered in the face of so many corporations today which are profitable and successful but utilize traditional management styles in running their businesses.

Benefits

In the book, “Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute,” Ken Blanchard, renowned author of the best-selling “One Minute Manager,” and his co-authors John P. Carlos and Alan Randolph, make a bid for this concept but recognizes the difficulties of its acceptance and success in hierarchical organizations today.

Blanchard is also a lecturer of Cornell University. He is chair of Blanchard Training and Development Inc. John P. Carlos is a senior associate of Blanchard Training and specializes in organization and people development. Alan Randolph is a management educator, consultant and speaker. Also a Blanchard senior associate, he teaches management at the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business.

The book’s preface state the problem succinctly: “Few changes in business have been so well received yet so problematic as the movement to create empowered, employee-driven work environments.

Despite this state of affairs, the authors contend that “empowerment offers the potential for tapping into a wellspring of underutilized human capacity that must be harnessed if organizations are to survive today’s increasingly complex and dynamic world.

Batting for empowerment, the authors state that “empowered employees benefit the organization and themselves. They have a greater sense of purpose in their jobs and lives, and their involvement translates directly into continuous improvement in the workplace systems and processes. In an empowered organization, employees bring their best ideas and initiatives to the workplace with a sense of excitement, ownership, and pride. In addition, they act with responsibility and put the best interests of the organization first.

Starting at the Top

Presented in this way, what management would resist empowerment? Viewed from the perspective of power corporate politics that exist in organization’s today, perhaps there would be many who would not look at it favorably.

Thus, Blanchard and his co-authors hit the nail on the head when they wrote that empowerment is a top-down, values-driven issue. Unless it starts at the top, it won’t succeed.

Management may be pushed to embrace empowerment by the one sector that it most desires and fears the customer. The authors say that to be able to get the customer in this continually changing competitive environment, the organization must be customer-driven, cost-effective, fast and flexible, and continually improving. The manager-controlled work environment may no longer be effective in meeting the changing customer needs.

Keys to Empowerment

For those who may be convinced of its efficacy, the authors provide directions on how to implement empowerment in the organization. They take the reader to an Oz-like journey to the Land of Empowerment. Here the fictitious Marvin Pitts, the CEO in search of an elixir to his flagging company, meets “The Empowering Manager,” Sandy Fitzwilliam, who turns out to be a woman who challenges all his long-held beliefs about management, people and empowerment. According to Sandy, “empowerment is not giving people power- they already have it! People already have the power through their knowledge and motivation. Empowerment is letting this power out!

As Marvin meets the “associates” of Sandy (employees of the organization), he is given the three “keys” to empowerment:

• Share information with everyone. People without information cannot act responsibly. People with information are compelled to act responsibly. Information is the currency for responsibility and trust in the Land of Empowerment.

• Create autonomy through boundaries. Employees need boundaries so that they can decide on their own. They need to know the company’s purpose. Values, image, goals, roles, and organizational structure and systems. These boundaries provide them the freedom to act but also to make them realize that they are accountable for results.

• Replace the hierarchy with self-directed teams. Empowered teams can do more than empowered individuals.

Challenges

Will these keys really open the doors to corporate success? In the United States, somecompanies who use empowerment and teams are Titeflex, GE, Motorola, Texas Instruments. These companies are well-known for the customer-driven products and services. Here in the Philippines, perhaps the only companies who practice empowerment are those that have parent companies abroad that do. Will Philippine companies take up the challenge? Will this be the path to world-class Philippines companies and Philippines 2000?

Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute
by Ken Blanchard, John P. Carlos and Allan Randolph Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.
San Francisco, California 1996, 126 pages

Author: Regina Galang Reyes. First published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer June 30, 1997

Photo credit: www.sxc.hu

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