The Reason Empowerment is Smoke and Mirrors

smoke

Power to decide is an either/or proposition. Two groups don’t have power to make the same decision, at the same time, in the same way. 

Empowerment is smoke and mirrors
until management loses power.

When managers and front-line employees “pretend-collaborate,” for example, the group that makes the decision has the power.

Collaboration only occurs between equals
committed to consensus decision-making.

Power and authority are zero sum games – the degree that one group gains decision-making power is the degree that another group loses it. When it comes to power, there are gainers and losers.

Empowering another is losing your power.

Empowerment doesn’t work
where managers won’t give up power.

Preaching empowerment and hanging on to power, at the same time, is manipulation. It’s a way to make people think they have power so they’ll go along and work harder.

Realistic empowerment:

Empowering the workforce creates engagement
because it disempowers managers.

  1. Empowerment demands transparency. Those making decisions must have information. If you can’t or won’t share information, you can’t empower.
  2. Empowered organizations have fewer managers. Flat organizations inevitably fire managers. Managers only play at empowerment because they’re protecting their jobs.
  3. Empowerment requires radical preparation. You aren’t disempowered one day and empowered the next. The workforce needs to develop management, communication, and decision-making skills, for example. The role of management during empowerment is preparing the workforce and lowering the number of managers.
  4. Empowered employees connect with customers. Customer service and product development begin with people who actually do the work.

Get real:

The power to “sign-off” on decisions reflects ultimate power. Others are advisers or puppets.

Empowerment, realistically, is a dance of shared power. One time you lead; another they. The most important aspect of empowerment is the negotiation between equals regarding who has power in any given circumstance.

How is empowerment being fleshed out in your organization?

This entire post is inspired by, “Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest,” by Peter Block. Peter’s book is highly recommended, but not for the faint of heart.

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