MT Masterclass - empowerment

What is it? Henry Ford pointed out that with workers, you get a free brain with every pair of hands. Management have long been aware that they were not getting all their staff to perform to their potential. How to improve?

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Why not empower them to perform? Trust them to take decisions.

Create self-managed teams. Give them the authority and resources they need, then get out of the way; you may be pleasantly surprised by the results. In practice, though, bosses find it hard to let go.

Where did it come from?

Management thinker W Edwards Deming, brought in to reinvigorate Japanese industry after World War II, was empowerment's great modern advocate.

He married the Japanese instinct for consensus with the industrial concept of teamwork, and suggested that the way to continuous improvement (kaizen) was through empowerment. In the 1980s, Western industrialists, alarmed at the success of Japanese rivals, launched Total Quality Management.

Quality circles, consisting of empowered staff, would deliver the performance.

Unfortunately, the Anglo-Saxon attitude, which calls for command-and-control, couldn't stomach this. In practice, the results generated by TQM, and the endless paperwork required to achieve compliance with quality benchmarks, proved counterproductive.

Where's it going?

In their recent book A Manager's Guide to Leadership, Pedler, Burgoyne and Boydell wrote: 'Think of when you last "empowered" someone. What power did you actually give them? And, if you did actually give them some actual power, did you take it back?' Does empowerment have a future? Try saying the word without laughing. Power to the people? We may have to be patient for a little while longer.

Fad quotient (out of 10)

Four and sinking.

How To

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