Empowerment is the process by which managers help others to acquire and use the power required to make decisions affecting both themselves and their work. Moreover, today, managers in progressive organizations are expected to be competent at empowering the people with whom they work. Rather than concentrating power only at higher levels as found in the traditional “pyramid” of organizations, this concept views power to be shared by all working in flatter and more collegial structures.
The concept of empowerment is part of the decentralized structures which are found in today’s corporations. Corporate staff is being cut back; layers of management are being eliminated; the number of employees is being reduced as the volume of work increases. The trend clearly is towards creating leaner and more responsive organizations which are flexible and capable of taking faster decisions with minimum bottlenecks created out of power struggles, typical of bureaucratic tall structures. The need clearly is towards having fewer managers who must share more power as they go about their daily tasks. Hence, empowerment is a key foundation of the increasingly popular self-managing work teams and other creative worker involvement groups.
For the empowerment process to set in and become institutionalized, power in the organization will be changed. The following are important in this context:
Changing Position Power: When an organization attempts to move power down the hierarchy, it must also alter the existing pattern of position power. Changing this pattern raises some important issues
Ø Can “empowered” individuals give rewards and sanctions based on task accomplishment?
Ø Has their new right to act been legitimized with formal authority?
Expanding the Zone of Indifference: When embarking on an empowerment program, management needs to recognize the current zone of indifference and systematically move to expand it. All too often, management assumes that its directive for empowerment will be followed; management may fail to show precisely how empowerment will benefit the individuals involved, however.
Thus in empowerment the basic issues which should be addressed are:
Training people in lower ranks how to function in the new empowered position. Using or unleashing power correctly is also an issue and most importantly the authority, responsibility and the accountability process should be clearly outlined so as not to upset organizational power equations. Just apportioning power at lower levels without giving the knowledge of how to use it can actually create havoc in the organizations.