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Posted by : Miranda Jensen
Date Published: 3 August 2015

The Problem of Empowerment
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Employers are expecting more from their staff and staff expect their organisation to support them with new technologies, facilities and efficient ways of working. New generations are emerging that are a driving force in defining an aspirational state and achieving it.

The problem of empowerment in the corporate world is arguably not a problem at all, but scratch the surface of this buzz word and many an executive run in fear. The modern office carries many a term that is misunderstood and/or not put into practice for the benefit of both individuals and organisations. It is a leading reason that change, transformation, and culture building activities fail to deliver the desired results.

What is empowerment?

Empowerment is defined as giving someone the power or authority to do something. A Culture of Empowerment is often used by organisations undertaking Transformations to encourage staff to think smarter, work with innovation and to take accountability.

What does empowerment in the workplace look like?

Many organisations constrict staff position descriptions to the point that they are crippling to an individuals ability to contribute. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides a helpful framework of our ‘whole-selves’ (Physiological, Safety, Belonging, Esteem and Self-Actualising), it is through this framework that we can identify where the ‘self-actualizing’ part of our selves is unmet in the workplace which will likely show as a lack of empowerment.

Organisations default to providing staff with structure and security as a minimum however these should not be met at the detriment of also enabling staff being contributors. Over time, with enough reinforcement of ‘only delivering against a position description’ individuals can believe their worth is nothing outside of this and disempowerment kicks in.

How does empowering employees benefit organisations?

VALUE: Empowered employees deliver their greatest value, empowered employees will align to and deliver against your vision because doing so enables them to feel more empowered. Empowered individuals will go above and beyond with individual commitments to continuously improve, contribute, shape, create, drive and grow your organisation.

CAPABILITIES: Empowered individuals drive greater capabilities in managers and leaders to find ways to nurture, mentor, support, drive and guide the empowered individual to success.

INNOVATION: Empowered employees will surprise you. They will deliver innovation that is truly the inspiration that you were looking for (as opposed to the ‘innovation’ that is just doing what we’ve always done but a little different).

INSPIRING: Empowered employees will be inspirational, when in their ‘flow’ where ideas flourish and inspire others to be in their flow.

RESILIENCE: Empowered employees are resilient, they know how to self manage to re-group to find another way, to learn to grow to challenge to succeed.

Why leaders fear empowerment

Empowered individuals expect greater leadership capabilities and this can cause leaders to fear empowerment: it forces leadership capabilities to be greater than those of the individuals that they have empowered.

Leaders fear ‘rogue' empowered individuals because there can be a perception that they are difficult to manage. If you have rogue empowered individuals it is likely because you haven’t clearly, repeatedly, tiresomely and effectively communicated and engaged your staff in your vision and the desired destination.

The poorer the engagement, the more problematic untamed empowerment may become. If staff are disengaged and not aligned to the organisation’s vision and objectives, an empowerment drive can result in these rogue operators, who have been empowered with no direction to ‘power’ forward towards their own destination and not that of the organisation.

Leaders have a tendency to ‘manage’ who they empower, for example selecting individuals for fast track career paths, which can trigger a cyclic reinforcement of disempowerment for those that are not deemed the right candidates. It can be a powerful technique to invest more time to shape positive empowerment in staff who would other times not be deemed suitable.

Techniques for positive empowerment

DEFINE: In the context of a clearly defined Vision, empower away. Define what empowerment looks like, explain why it is desired and what benefits there are for both the individual and the organisation.

COMMITMENT: Make a commitment. What will your leadership team do to support those staff stepping into the empowerment zone? How will you create a safe and supportive environment for any fears of failure?

EXPLORE: Explore concepts of the holistic being; bring in speakers to talk on inspirational topics. Encourage wellness, awareness, personal development, coaching and mentoring.

CAPTURE: Capture case studies from other organisations and your own that demonstrate positive empowerment.

ESTABLISH: Establish an empowerment network, to support, drive and inspire empowerment in your organisation.

And lastly…

Empower your staff to devise ways to support their own empowerment!


If your organisation is on a journey of change and you would like to learn more about leveraging empowerment to increase change adoption. Please contact us for a chat.





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