People Empowerment: How to
Guarantee Success in Improvement Initiatives
These days, nearly everyone knows about
"empowerment." The idea of getting improved business results by empowering
people isnt novel, or even controversial, anymore. And why should it be? There are
lots of examples of successful companies and improvement programs that would have only
worked with an empowered workforce. People Empowerment is one of the best ways to involve
employees in any improvement program. To be successful, a People Empowerment process must
recognize, congratulate, and reward employees for their commitment to a "problem
solving and corrective action" way of doing business.
However, too often many companies are very unsuccessful in
implementing a People Empowerment program.
Why? A variety of reasons:
- Everyone "thinks" they know about People
Empowerment. However, do they truly understand the definition of People Empowerment and
the subsequent actions required to implement it? Very simply, People Empowerment is the
delegation of authority, accountability, and responsibility to employees for improving the
business processes under their control without obtaining permission from
management. Without internalizing this definition, empowerment is bound to fail.
- Sometimes management really doesnt understand what it
is getting into when starting the program. Then, they cant operate without a
"command & control" structure. People are hindered or prevented from doing
anything without getting permission or asking a higher authority.
- Expectations are so broad that people assume they have a
"blank check" and can address and attack any issue and problem and run around
like "loose cannons" trying to solve every business problem. Often, specific
business improvement goals are lacking.
- Teams get bogged down in a "paralysis by
analysis" mode without taking any actions or getting results. The problem is usually
a lack of direction and leadership. Management sees no results and they equate this to a
waste of time, and People Empowerment is deemed a failure.
- People and teams lack problem solving and interpersonal
skills. They dont practice teamwork, cant get to the root causes of problems,
and cant achieve consensus. The net result is they dont work together and
dont solve problems.
The purpose of this article is to show how to prevent the
above problems and answer 4 specific questions. They are:
- What are the key elements & prerequisites required to
- Once empowered, what should the people do?
- What authority do they have?
- Are their actions directly linked to the business
Your companys People Empowerment efforts
dont have to turn sour, and your people dont have to be disappointed,
frustrated, angry, or turned off. The keys to success are in some practical prerequisites
listed below. Build them into the planning for your next improvement initiative. They will
help guarantee success.
- Communicate your vision.
Clear communication of the company vision, business objectives, direction, and expected
benefits (to the customer, the company, and to the individual employees) is required.
Telling people what to do without communicating "why" seldom generates
- Lead with the feet and not with the
lips. Executive management must provide leadership, focus, and direction. Their
commitment is to ensure resources (time, money, and energy) are available & allocated
properly. And they must create a sense of urgency and high priority.
But, in the end,
management must allow people to solve the business problems themselves.
People empower themselves; i.e. they take ownership of their processes and dont have
to get permission to implement every incremental improvement idea. Managements role
is to break the red tape, remove obstacles, and help avoid bureaucracy. Then they get out
of the way!
- Establish a new mindset. A
new attitude that "everyone is a problem solver" must replace the
traditional one of "workers work and managers think." This requires a
change in everyones attitude toward honesty, openness, communication, and treating
workers as adults. People need to be viewed as a talented resource for solving problems
and making improvements.
- Build interpersonal skills
early. Listening, communication, and team building skills must be taught
to all the members of any action team. This needs to be done before discussing
problems, attempting solutions, or leaping into actions.
- An objective and
non-judgmental climate must be created. Team leaders must prepare members
to discuss sensitive issues without personal attacks. There needs to be a minimal amount
of rationalization, emotionalism, egos, anger, fear, politics, fingerpointing, and
defensiveness. Team members must learn to respect and listen to each others ideas
and opinions. The old brainstorming rule is particularly true. No idea is without some
merit. People Empowerment without interpersonal skills is a waste of time.
- Provide problem solving
tools. Problem solving tools must also be fully understood by all members
of the action team. These include flowcharts, cause and effect diagrams, Pareto charts,
control charts, run charts, brainstorming techniques, etc. Without these tools, the action
teams will be unable to separate the symptoms from the root causes of the companys
problems. Time must be allocated so the problem solving tools can be properly used to
define the root causes of problems so that the same problems will not appear again and
again and again. People Empowerment without problem solving skills is an impossibility.
- Form focused teams with
effective leaders. Form teams only after the potential leaders are
educated and trained in facilitation skills. Picking a strong leader/facilitator will help
guarantee action team success.
- Staff appropriately.
Make sure the action teams include people that can actually solve the specific problem or
identify opportunities for improvement. Whether crossfunctional or functional, the action
teams must include people with a vested interest in solving the problem and improving the
process. They should not include people who lack interest in improvement.
- Focus on specific problems.
Avoid truisms, generalities, broad statements of intent as goals for individual teams.
"Making this a better company" may well be a fine goal, but is so non-specific
that it cannot be engaged by an action team. If you want improvement, clear communication
of where, what, why, and how is required. If you want inventory reduction, then state
where and to what level. If you want reduced setup time, which machines and how much? And
if you want synchronous production, which line or area? The leader/facilitator and/or
management need to provide direction to help narrow the focus. Action team expectations,
goals, objectives, and results should be clearly defined from the start.
- Establish clear performance
measurements. This is managements handle on the process. Performance
measurements motivate behavior. Saying you want one thing, and measuring another sends
mixed messages to the organization. "We want this, but your accountable for (i.e.
measure on) that" is a sure way to guarantee no change or improvement.
- Avoid "paralysis by
analysis." Once the root causes are discovered, there should be a
sense of urgency to attack them with a vengeance and eliminate them. It is important to
get into an actions and results mode to achieve measurable and tangible results in a
maximum of 90 days.
- Define the limits of the
problem solving authority. Can your teams make changes and spend money (up
to a set amount) without management approval? If the limits of team authority are clearly
defined up front, they should be able to solve most basic problems or make basic
improvements without involving executive management.
- Don't form a team to attack
every problem. The key is to get problems solved, make improvements, and
achieve measurable operational results, not to have lot of action teams. Often, empowering
and delegating authority to individuals will also achieve excellent results.
- Keep the action teams small -
eight to ten people maximum. Small teams allow good participation,
involvement, interaction, and communication.
- Recognition is the
cornerstone of People Empowerment. Recognize, congratulate, promote
people's efforts, and reward people for a job well done. Highlight specific
accomplishments so that everyone throughout the company can see the business results. This
process must be in place before you set up your action teams. Without recognition, people
lose their motivation, enthusiasm, or commitment to solve problems and make improvements.
Build these prerequisites into your improvement and
empowerment programs. To ensure your foundation remains strong, go back periodically and
review them. "We've done it once" isnt enough to ensure ongoing
Weve helped implement many successful People
Empowerment processes. If you really want an empowered work force that can contribute to
your companys World Class, Supply Chain Management, Manufacturing Excellence,
Synchronous Flow, Continuous Improvement, and/or Class A MRP II objectives, don't even
think about starting without honoring these principles.
If you have specific questions about this
article or want to discuss it, call Chris Gray at 603 778-9211.
The Partners for Excellence specialize in
helping companies set up comprehensive measurement programs and improving overall resource management performance.
Contact us at 1 603 528-0840 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.