In organizations, empowerment means granting employees the autonomy to assume a more active and responsible role. This is accomplished by strengthening their sense of effectiveness as well as by sharing power, information and the responsibility to manage their own work as much as possible. In terms of organizational culture, empowerment is related to the Individual Autonomy dimension.
2. The pros and cons of empowerment
But why should we empower our employees? Here are some benefits that empowerment may bring to organizations:
- Improves communication and decision making
- Improves morale, motivation and commitment
- Creates “ownership” of the job
- Increases job satisfaction
- Increases risk-taking and innovation
- Improves relationships with customers and suppliers
- Reduces layers of management
On the other hand, empowerment may also have some negative effects:
- Not everyone wants to be empowered
- We can not just empower staff and assume that they will assume the empowerment
- Empowerment may not be appropriate for some organizations
- Empowerment actually requires more management effort
- Empowerment means changes and constant changes may keep things unsettled
- There is a risk that empowerment efforts may fail
3. Barriers to empowerment
Here are some barriers that may prevent empowerment to be implemented:
From the aspect of organization:
- Lack of trust between manager and staff
- No clear definition and policy about accountability
- Empowered staff do not receive enough training to be able to handle the empowerment
- No differentiation between staff
- Lack of communication
- Unclear vision
From the aspect of manager:
- Unwillingness to give up control
- Reluctance to change management style
- Fear of losing position
- Cling to old accountability
From the aspect of staff:
- Do not want to be accountable
- Do not realize their values and potentials
- Fear of losing position due to new accountability
- Lack of training
4. Implementing empowerment
By understanding possible barriers to empowerment, here are how empowerment can be implemented in organizations:
At company level:
- Develop a clear mission and communicate it clearly to all employees
- Build trust within the organization at all levels
- Build an organizational culture that encourage innovation and risk taking
- Provide adequate training so that staff can handle the empowerment
- Replace hierarchical structure with self-managed teams
- Set clear boundaries for authority and accountability
At team level:
- Get staff to involve in selecting their work assignments and the methods for accomplishing tasks
- Create and environment of cooperation, information sharing, discussion, and shared ownership of goals
- Encourage staff to take initiative, make decision, and use their knowledge
- When problems arise, find out what staff think and let them help design the solutions
- Stay out of the way, give staff the freedom to put their ideas and solutions into practice
- Maintain high morale and confidence by recognizing successes and encouraging high performance
5. Empowerment in startup
In my opinion, empowerment should be compulsory in startup company and become part of its organizational culture for the following reasons:
- In terms of organizational culture, startup company should have high level of Individual Autonomy dimension and this can only be achieved via empowerment.
- Employees in startup company are usually the “A players” and they are likely to have the ability to handle empowerment.
- Startup company is there to grow fast and so are its employees. Empowerment will prepare and help them to grow.
- For startup software company, such Agile methodologies as Scrum or Extreme Programming requires self-managed teams and this can only be achieved via the implementation of empowerment.
Bess, D., 2012. Power, BUS 626 Organizational Behavior. University of Hawaii at Manoa, unpublished.
The definition of power, which is “the ability to influence the behavior of others”, shows a strong relationship between power and influence, all together with leadership. According to Hughes, Ginnett and Curphy (2011), understanding about leadership can not be achieved without understanding the concepts of power, influence and influence tactics. Followed up on the six sources of power, this post will list some common influence tactics that can be used to achieve power.
According to Bauer and Erdogan (2009), there are nine commonly used influence tactics:
- Rational persuasion includes using facts, data, and logical arguments to try to convince others that your point of view is the best alternative. This is the most commonly applied influence tactic.
- Inspirational appeals focus on values, emotions, and beliefs to gain support for a request or course of action. Such sayings like ““Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” (John Kennedy) or “Stay hungry, stay foolish” (Steve Jobs) are good examples of this tactic. Inspirational appeals are effective when they are authentic, personal, big-thinking, and enthusiastic.
- Consultation refers to the influence agent’s asking others for help in directly influencing another person or group. Consultation is most effective in organizations and cultures that value democratic decision making.
- Ingratiation refers to different ways of making others feel good about themselves. Ingratiation is effective when it is honest, infrequent, and well intended.
- Personal appeal refers to helping another person because you like them and they asked for your help. Personal appeals are most effective with people who know and like you.
- Exchange refers to give-and-take in which someone does something for you, and you do something for them in return.
- Coalition tactics refer to a group of individuals working together toward a common goal to influence others. Unions are common examples of coalitions within organizations.
- Pressure refers to pushing someone to do what you want or else something undesirable will occur. This often includes threats and frequent interactions until the target agrees. Pressure tactics are most effective when used in a crisis situation.
- Legitimating tactics occur when the appeal is based on legitimate or position power. This tactic relies upon compliance with rules, laws, and regulations. It is not intended to motivate people but to align them behind a direction.
There are three possible outcomes from influence attempts:
- Resistance: occurs when the influence target does not wish to comply with the request and either passively or actively repels the influence attempt.
- Compliance: occurs when the target does not necessarily want to obey, but they do.
- Commitment: occurs when the target not only agrees to the request but also actively supports it as well.
The following table shows the usage frequency and outcomes of each influence tactic:
Bauer, T. and Erdogan, B., 2009. Organizational Behavior. 1st ed. Flat World Knowledge, Inc.
Hughes, R., Ginnett, R. and Curphy, G., 2011. Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience. 7th ed. McGraw-Hill.
By definition, power is the ability to influence the behavior of others to get what you want. According to Bauer and Erdogan (2009), there are six sources of power:
- Legitimate power is power that comes from one’s organizational role or position. For example, a manager can assign tasks to his subordinates, a policeman can arrest a citizen, and a teacher assigns grades to his students. Others comply with the requests these individuals make because they accept the legitimacy of the position, whether they like or agree with the request or not.
- Reward power is the ability to grant a reward, such as an increase in pay, a perk, or an attractive job assignment. Reward power tends to accompany legitimate power and is highest when the reward is scarce. Anyone can have reward power in the form of public praise or giving someone something in exchange for their compliance.
- Coercive power is the ability to take something away or punish someone for noncompliance. Coercive power often works through fear, and it forces people to do something that ordinarily they would not choose to do. The most extreme example of coercion is government dictators who threaten physical harm for noncompliance.
- Expert power comes from knowledge and skills. Technology companies are often characterized by expert, rather than legitimate power.
- Information power comes from the ability to access to specific information. For example, knowing price information gives a person information power during negotiations. In organizations, a person’s social network can either isolate them from information power or serve to create it.
- Referent power comes from the personal characteristics of the person such as the degree to which we like, respect, and want to be like them. Referent power is often called charisma—the ability to attract others, win their admiration, and hold them spellbound.
Legitimate, Reward, Coercive and Information power can be categorized as “organizational bases of power”, which are derived from organizational position and organizational policies. On the other hand, Expert and Reference power are “personal bases of power”, which are derived from personal characteristics.
Bauer, T. and Erdogan, B., 2009. Organizational Behavior. 1st ed. Flat World Knowledge, Inc.