It’s hard to imagine any group of employees being less empowered than those who work in authoritative organizations where employees simply do what they are told, no questions asked. No regard for creativity and innovation, employees are seen as bodies rather than minds, and any required thinking are done by supervisors. The authoritative structure destroys employee initiative, eliminates trust, and creates legion of workers who aren’t lazy, but uninspired. The HR challenge? How to get the best from employees who are used to doing only what’s required? How to get them to believe in your business, understand what needs to be done, and willing to give you their ideas?
With an idea as antithetical to worker’s current way of thinking, creating a truly empowered workforce requires patience and extraordinary HR effort. Strong managers can be easily brought in, however, encouraging employees to share their ideas about how to grow the organization, set new skills training, realistic goals, giving ongoing feedback on how they are going to meet those goals, in short, treating them as adults, is deem to pay off. Such strategy allows employees to blossom, finding skills they didn’t know they had, with the majority of the workforce operating at capacities never before thought possible.
Unfortunately, this is no easy task. True empowerment doesn’t provide immediate gratification. The length of the learning curve is the greatest challenge to most empowerment programs. It takes longer for employees to figure out how to make improvements on their own than it does to simply tell them what to do. The true cost of empowering employees is in the time it takes, not the cost of training or anything else. This also includes the time it takes for employees to understand that managers really want more input in this very agile process. In addition to the patience game that many companies refuse to play, a lot of so-called empowerment programs fail because HR initiatives approach the process the wrong way.
Empowerment isn’t something you do to people, it’s a process HR, along with the support of organizational leaders must nurture and encourage by creating an empowering environment. One where employees are given goals, information, feedback, training, and most importantly positive reinforcement. Positive work teams and information sharing are the building blocks of an empowering environment. Such programs tend to fail when management doesn’t deal with the environment that influences employee behavior. The only way to capture employees’ hearts and get them psychologically involved in work, is by changing how they view that work. Companies in which employees are most likely to consider themselves empowered are those that rely heavily on well managed teams and teamwork. By working in productive teams, employees not only find greater meaning from their work but also have more ability to influence its outcome. As a result, teamwork change how work is viewed, setting the stage for more important and longer-lasting changes in attitude.
Empowerment programs won’t work unless team-members get ongoing feedback from each other in a way they never could working independently and relying on a single supervisor for support and direction. For this reason, HR professionals who want employees to feel empowered should start by reorganizing their workforce into goal oriented, production-based teams. Only then, can they start by making the environmental changes needed to support those teams, and ultimately the organization’s goals. Remember, empowering employees is a continual process, a race without a finish line. Companies that take the first step by creating an environment conducive to empowerment will be leading the pack.
By Sophia Sanchez, PhD(c), SPHRFounder and Principal Consultant Develop For Results International Author of “The Development Alternative: Powerful Strategies for unparalleled Business Results” DevelopForResults.com