How Empowered Is Your Workforce?

By Uju Onwuzulike Chief Results Officer, MCL

“A problem is a chance for you to do your best”……..Duke Ellington

It is common these days to hear leaders and managers say that: “their organizations cannot function properly without the right people”. Sometimes, we also hear organizations saying that “people are their highest or biggest asset”. As leaders and managers, a key question to ask ourselves is: how do we make the most out of that biggest asset in our organizations? How do we get our employees to deliver more for the customers – since organizations exist to serve the customers? The truth is that it is very easy for organizations to act as though people are their greatest asset meanwhile such organizations may not have the right foundation in which to maximize the potentials or the capabilities of their workforce. That right foundation by which leaders or managers make the most out of their team members comes through empowerment.

The dilemma often times comes from how managers understand what empowerment means and how it has robbed organizations of its successes. Some leaders and managers still see empowerment to mean giving employees or people the power to make decisions that they ought to have made themselves. As a result of this understanding, some organizations find it difficult to engage the hearts and minds of their workforce. These leaders and managers’ misguided understanding of the word empowerment have made them to appear as if they are giving power to their workforce to drive results – and without those powers or approvals making progress might be a herculean task. Another believe stem from the fact that some organizations are already accustomed to the command – and –control structure, an feel that empowering workforce will mean taking powers and controls out from them.

A true fact unknown to some leaders and managers is that people in the organization already have or possess a tremendous amount of power within them. What do I mean? They already have powers that reside in their experience, in their knowledge, exposures, and even internal drives. They already have full prepared powers that they will bring to any organization they chose to work for. But unfortunately those powers in terms of knowledge, influence, exposures, what they can do, and their positions are not utilized for the growth of organizations. Sometimes, they are allowed to go dormant unknowingly. Importantly, organizations need to have a re-think on how they view empowerment.

They should begin to see empowerment as creating of an organizational environment that will unleash the knowledge, experience, and motivation that reside in people in that organization. Organizations should stop seeing empowerment as a way to wrestle for power. From my experience as consultant and trainer, for empowerment to be entrenched as a culture in organizations – and not just a lip service, it requires a major shift in attitude. And the fundamental place that shift will emerge from is in the heart of every leader. One of the roles of leaders and managers is to ensure that employees utilize their experiences, skills, exposures, and also their contacts in a way that will make their organizations to be more successful.

Talking of contacts for instance, some employees might have very important contacts that can be highly beneficial to the organization, but without being empowered or encouraged they might not let it out. So the key to empowerment is the ability of leaders and managers to get people in their organizations to “let the powers” they have out for the good of their organizations. So empowerment is liken to letting people in your organization bring their brains to work and allowing them to use their knowledge, experience, and skills to build a formidable organization.

Employees on their part should not misconstrue empowerment to mean as though they were given the free rein to do as they please and make all the key decisions about their jobs. They should not fail to realize that the price of freedom is a sharing of risks and responsibility. But importantly, an empowered culture requires even greater accountability from every employee. Finally, empowerment breeds accountability, the earlier organizations realize that the better.

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