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Employee Empowerment Means Organizational Success

Arend Sandbulte
Chief Executive Officer of Minnesota Power


"Employee empowerment" appears in practically every other article one reads in the business press these days. But if this term brings to mind hordes of marching, fist-waving employees, we, as business leaders, should re-think that image.

Employee empowerment simply means that an organization is smart enough to banish antiquated, edict-style management practices--to unleash the vital, untapped forces of employee creativity and motivation to solve business problems.

Doing so makes good business sense. Employee empowerment can increase employees' motivation, job satisfaction, and loyalty to their companies, and have a profoundly beneficial impact on the bottom line.

In order to create a business climate conducive to the upward flow of creative ideas from employees, we business leaders must be painfully honest about the effectiveness and rightness of our personal management style. We must erase lines that have historically divided workers and managers--lines that clearly told workers they were on the receiving end of a pecking order. In fact, we must do more than merely listen to employees. We must actively solicit their ideas, and then act on them.

It seems to me that there are two obstacles to fully realizing employees' potential: (1) Employees not taking initiative to tackle more challenges and avoid stagnation in the job. (2) The boss contributing to stagnation by not encouraging employees to tackle those challenges.

Managers don't like to think of themselves as impeding the full development of their employees' talents and creativity. They're busy trying to manage, looking at the bottom line--not so much at how employees can help them improve the bottom line. And because managers have responsibility for employees' productivity, it's naturally difficult for them to trust employees to do the right thing for the company.

If this tendency is to be averted it's essential for managers to be leaders, rather than mere managers. Good leaders understand that being the boss doesn't mean bossing; it means breaking down barriers to getting a job done in the best way possible. It means providing employees with resources, training, and coaching. And it means providing them with information they have a right to know, so they can see their organization's "big picture."

Employees who have labored for years under a "top down" management style will naturally distrust a sudden switch. They may have been afraid of their bosses if those bosses clearly had an attitude which said, "You work for me, and don't forget it. I can make you or break you." So we must ensure that workers will not be casualties of changes resulting from their efforts. Building trust is essential to enlisting employees' loyalty to their organization.

Creating an environment that empowers employees takes time, patience, and tenacity. But the benefits are enormous. And most important, a participative work culture gives your organization a better shot at beating the competition.

June 1992



Center for Ethical Business Cultures
1000 LaSalle Avenue, M12
Minneapolis, MN 55403-2005

Phone: 651 962 4120 or, 800 328 6819 Ext. 2-4120

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© 1998-2002 Center for Ethical Business Cultures


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