Correct Decision-Making Powers
As an employee, how many times have you encountered frustration by finding your hands tied? From experience or familiarity, you know the obvious solution to the issue at hand. However, rules, regulations and policies prevent you from doing just that while the issue rages, waiting for someone higher up to apply their suggestion.
Without the powers to commit or authorize such actions, most employees in a traditional organization serve only as a sounding board, bringing the issue to the attention of the manager higher up in the echelons of power, with or without his suggestion on what to do. Action, if any comes from the manager who, pressed with many things, may not give the issue the seriousness it deserves. At times, the manager, oblivious to the added insight that a floor level employee may have a different perspective of the issue, makes a decision that far from solving the issue, aggravates it.
Empowerment changes this serious impediment to organizational effectiveness by allowing floor level employees who come in direct contact with the customer to take decisions by applying his mind and judgment, without escalating the matter to higher-ups or being bound by the otherwise restraining rules, regulations, and policies.
Many employers, however, go overboard and make the mistake of giving unbridled powers to employees, to the extent that employees take whatever decision they see fit with scant regards to the restraints otherwise in place. This is a mistake. Effective empowerment requires the employee to remain bound to the rules, regulations and policies, all which exist for a good reason, but with the power to tweak them to the desired effect. A truly empowered employee would also understand the extent to which he can override the systems in place, or when to cross the line.
For instance, a front line employee may decide to replace a defective product straightaway when he is convinced of the genuineness of the demand from the customer’s emotions, even when company policy may state otherwise. But the same employee cannot be expected to have the authority to stop sourcing the similar product from suppliers just because a few customers happen to return the product for defects.
In a similar vein, empowerment is autonomy and decision-making powers are limited to all aspects related to an employee’s job responsibility. An empowered employee working in human resources cannot for instance go in and decide to scrap a marketing project just because the staff involved in the project complains about its ineffectiveness. The same employee, however, can take the initiative to launch a training program that improves organizational communications, which may allow such employees to connect with supervisors better.
For empowerment to work, the employee and the supervisor need to come together and establish clear goals and expectations within agreed-upon boundaries.