Over the past decades, many books have been written and much has been spoken about the subject of empowerment. Yet, with all that attention, I often hear managers at all levels blame failure on the lack of empowerment. They speak about being given the responsibility to accomplish certain things, but also complain about not being given the necessary authority to get them done.
Empowerment establishes a greater degree of teamwork among people by the delegation of responsibility and authority across the organization. Essentially, empowerment is a process that facilitates the redistribution of decision-making from traditional top-down hierarchy to individuals and teams at all levels. “True” empowerment starts with effective and complete delegation.
As supervisors and managers, we must decide how much work we should do ourselves and how much work should be given, or delegated to others. By definition, delegation is the assignment of duties, tasks, responsibilities, and authority to others in order to achieve the desired results. Delegating allows supervisors and managers to extend their influence and power beyond their own limits of time, energy, and knowledge. Delegation is not the same as “passing the buck”.
STUMBLING BLOCKS TO DELEGATION
FEAR OF LOSS
I trained supervisors and managers who believed that delegating is the same as a giving away; a loss. They initially could not bring themselves to delegate because they feared losing power, control, and authority. Some wanted to be seen as indispensable, tackling all projects and making most of the decisions with all good intentions, for the most part, but without direct involvement from their employees. Sure, they had meetings periodically to mainly let everyone know how things were going to be done and with who’s blessing. I’ve heard some refer to this as “benevolent dictatorship”. I also describe that style of management as passive-aggressive. These beliefs and actions largely fuels a resistance to delegate, if not a total avoidance.
It’s important to understand that when we delegate, we are not losing anything. What we are in fact accomplishing is extending or sharing our authority and right to manage with others who can help us reach our objectives
LACK OF CONFIDENCE
Many supervisors and managers are not confident in the abilities of their direct reports to perform duties or assume responsibilities for which they are ultimately accountable. When we lack confidence in someone’s abilities, our natural tendencies is to micro-manage and avoid delegating. Why wouldn’t we since we don’t believe in other’s abilities to achieve the desired results that we ourselves are responsible for and accountable to our boss. The adage “If you want something done right, do it yourself” could certainly apply in this situation.
When this happens, why not take some steps to increase our employee’s skills and level of knowledge? Recognizing the strengths and shortcomings of our employees is a basic management function. We must then focus on investing time in helping our people fill the gaps. This way, we increase our confidence in our employees. Training along with a supportive attitude, may very well be the answer. Long term, I guarantee it makes our job easier!
DELEGATION OF AUTHORITY
When we delegate a task or responsibility to an employee, we must provide that employee with all the tools necessary for success, and that includes authority. For instance, let’s say that your objective is to delegate to your lead hand, the responsibility of chairing the weekly safety meetings. Your decision is surely based on your beliefs that this individual is trustworthy, and has sufficient skills and knowledge to fulfill this role. Once the employee agrees to take this on, it is imperative that you also delegate sufficient authority so that your lead hand can assume this responsibility and be successful at it. It’s a good idea to ask yourself, “What authority do I have with respect to the safety meetings?” I have the authority and responsibility to;
- Expect selected members from all production teams to attend the weekly meetings and be well prepared from the previous week
- Hold members accountable for not showing up or not arriving on time
- Expect everyone to behave professionally
- Expect members to abide by their commitments
- Expect the safety representatives to enforce safety policies in their respective departments, etc.
It is important to communicate the change of chair to all team members before the next meeting. A better idea is to be present at the next meeting, introduce the new chair and speak of the scope of authority and responsibility that chairing these weekly meetings entail. This shows to all concerned, that your lead hand has your support, enabling that individual to earn credibility, even before assuming the role. By extending your authority, you are delegating effectively and moving one step closer to “true” empowerment.
A fundamental principle of organizational development states that a manager should not assign or delegate responsibility to a direct report unless that same manager is prepared to assign or delegate sufficient authority to perform. Otherwise, managers run the risk of positioning their employees to fail.