Why should organisations implement Employee Empowerment?

Why should organisations implement Employee Empowerment

If managers and leaders empower their employees, to have more control over their work, take decisions and responsibility at the operational level, it motivates employees and gives them a high sense of self-esteem and worthiness.

Introduction

The success of quality improvement and initiatives comes from people in the organisation, and it is no secret that if senior management doesn’t support a culture of quality and continuous improvement, then it is difficult for employees to be quality players in the organisation. They simply don’t take any initiative.

Where there is zero initiative, there will be zero improvement.

So that all employees can take part in improving quality, one way to enable this is to empower employees. If employees don’t have the freedom, flexibility, knowledge or understanding to improve a product process, or a service delivery process, then no change, creativity, or innovation can take place.

However, this must be done with compassion, agreement and understanding between team members and management in the organisation. It should not go to the point where anyone can do anything they like, that is not empowerment, it is chaos and a badly run organisation.

Case studies can be a great way to learn from other people’s experiences. It opens corridors of knowledge, from where great learnings can be captured!

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In this series of articles, I want to share the findings of my evidence-based doctorate research on employee empowerment, of two case study organisations, (keeping their anonymity) one was the largest telecommunications company in the UK, and the other, a small manufacturing company, a factory, that employed people on day and night shift basis.

The investigative nature of my research questions was based on how the two organisations went about implementing empowerment, what were the difficulties they faced, the impact of empowerment and most importantly the feelings and the experiences of employees, including senior management in the organisation.

The methodology adopted was qualitative, comprising semi-structured interviews of individuals and focus groups. This meant that I could enter the field at the grassroots level, talk to people directly, and have conversations, without the interruption of senior management.

Curious to find out the ‘human’ side of people’s experiences and their feelings about empowerment; how people coped with the radical change, from a ‘command and control’ culture to an ‘employee empowerment’ culture, of supposedly more ‘freedom and flexibility’, I started my research journey.

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised in both the organisations, by the welcome from senior management, who did not stop me from investigating and asking questions. I was able to dive deep into the conversation with people.

The well-known expression ‘not one size fits all’ turned out to be true for the case study organisations, as both tried to implement employee empowerment, but in totally different ways.

The Large Organisation introduced a formal employee empowerment programme, announcing it in their team-building retreats, while the Small Organisation informally practised employee empowerment, introducing it in their daily work and weaving it into different projects, without making any big announcement about it, except to their key managers and team leaders.

Why did the organisations choose to go down the employee empowerment route? There were two reasons, one was that they wanted to improve quality and the other was they had the aspiration to be the best, so they applied for the European Foundation for Quality Management Award (EFQM), and they both won and became the EFQM Award winners!

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One of the criteria for the EFQM Award was that organisations needed to demonstrate what steps they took to empower their employees.

Undoubtedly, quality awards, such as The Baldridge and the EFQM, and other local and national awards always play an important role in organisations trying to implement empowerment.

A little step back into history, before these awards came into play, it needs to be highlighted that historically a major spur to the popularity of employee empowerment was the quality movement and in particular, Total Quality Management (TQM).

Quality management implies an open management style, participative decision-making, and devolution of responsibility. The aim is to develop a ‘quality culture’, whereby everyone in the organisation shares a common goal, that is, quality improvement.

A key feature of TQM is empowering employees, and this is clear from the works of several Quality gurus (Crosby, 1979; Deming, 1986; Juran, 1988; Oakland, 1989; Peters, 1994).

TQM stipulates that continuous improvement should be undertaken by those involved in a process, thereby introducing elements of bottom-up identification of issues and problems, so that everyone in an organisation from top to bottom, from offices to technical, administrative service, from the central office to local sites must be involved and allowed to participate in decision-making processes.

From the findings of my research study, there are sound business and psychological reasons behind empowering employees.

As people are the source of ideas and innovation, their expertise, experience, and knowledge can enable organisations to grow their business when empowered.

The psychological perspective shows that there are motivational benefits of employee empowerment, as it can increase an individual’s self-efficacy and belief in themselves, a ‘can do’ approach, and it makes them feel valued (Huq, 2016).Hence, psychologically, empowerment enables people to flourish and develop their full potential, as they feel more confident, and this gives them a higher degree of self-esteem and self-efficacy.

An important perspective from the human side of leadership is that valuing people and developing their potential is also resonant with neo-modernist thinking, and in particular, neo-modernism challenges “the place of the ‘human’ in organisations” (McAuley et al, 2007: 101).

It is well established that to survive in the global competitive markets, organisations must empower employees, because it helps to build up distinctive skills and the much-needed competencies, such as decision-making, problem-solving, taking responsibility, and for leaders an opportunity to be a human-centric leader.

These distinctive skills and competencies in turn help the organisation to compete and cope with changes in the marketplace, thus making organisations competitive, and effective.

Interestingly, in line with these arguments, I have also identified two other important perspectives in the discourse on employee empowerment, namely, the economic and psychological perspectives.

The argument from the economic perspective is that an organisation’s sustainable competitive advantage must be gained through its people. To compete in the global market and to respond to customer needs speedily, there needs to be less control concentrated at the top and more decision-making responsibility devolved right down the organisation, especially to front-line workers. By doing this, organisations can reduce costs, be customer-centric and deliver excellent customer service.

Hence the question, of why organisations should implement employee empowerment and why should leaders and quality professionals support it, has obvious reasons.

If managers and leaders empower their employees, to have more control over their work, take decisions and responsibility at the operational level, it motivates employees and gives them a high sense of self-esteem and worthiness and makes them feel valued that they are contributing to the growth of the organisation, and side by side, it also frees leaders and managers to take decisions and responsibilities at the strategic level, which in turn would lead to a more judicious utilisation of the talents of employees at all levels, (Huq, 2008, 2016).

References
Crosby, P.B. (1979). Quality is Free: The Art of Making Quality Certain. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Deming, W.E. (1986). Out of the Crisis: Quality, Productivity and Competitive Position. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Huq, R. (2008). An Investigation of What Employee Empowerment Means in Theory and in Practice. PhD Doctoral Research. Queen’s University Belfast. United Kingdom.
Huq, R. (2017). The Psychology of Employee Empowerment. Concepts, Critical Themes and a Framework for Implementation. Routledge. United Kingdom.
Juran, J.M. (1988). Juran on Planning for Quality. New York: The Free Press.
McAuley, J., Duberley, J. and Johnson, P. (2007). Organisation Theory: Challenges and
Perspectives. Edinburgh: Pearson Education.
Oakland, J.S. (1989). Total Quality Management. London: Heinemann Publishing.
Peters, T. (1994). The Pursuit of Wow! London: Macmillan.

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Dr. Rozana Huq

is the Director at RHM LEADERSHIP based in the UK. She is an organisational behaviourist, author, conference speaker and a leadership educator, helping quality professionals and leaders achieve organisational excellence and thrive with teams.

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Author

Dr. Rozana Huq

is the Director at RHM LEADERSHIP based in the UK. She is an organisational behaviourist, author, conference speaker and a leadership educator, helping quality professionals and leaders achieve organisational excellence and thrive with teams.

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