How to Make Empowerment Work?


Coach Cahyadi Kurniawan

Coach Cahyadi

This management buzzword is quite famous starting early 90’s. Actually what is empowerment? If you look up the meaning in the dictionary, it will tell you to empower is to give somebody power/authority/right, so empowerment in management is to give the freedom for the subordinate to perform on the job.

Empowerment is not the same as abdication. If you tell your employee: “I give you all the freedom to carry out your job, I don’t care what and how you do, the important thing is that you have to beat the budget end of the year period” according to me, this is not empowerment, this is abdication, which means: I don’t care, all the responsibility is with you.

Empowerment is giving a certain freedom to the subordinate to complete the job. All the result is still the responsibility of the leader. The leader is still in charge and takes responsibility of the result. (now, the job of the Boss is not easy anymore, success? the subordinate is brilliant, fail? the Boss has to bare the blame).

So let go out and implement empowerment? Is that so easy?

It is not easy!

Empowerment can be translated into sub components:

  1. Direction
    As a superior, you have to give a clear direction to your subordinate, communicate it properly, and make your subordinate understand what you want.The higher the maturity, the more simple is the direction. Example, during a war, the General decides to siege the capital (simple clear direction), the air force translate it to paralyze the enemy by bombing the airport (more detail direction) and finally the pilot has to bomb the run way (final target) and not the sewage.In the business world some time your subordinate is much more expert than you in their field (such as R&D), but you still have to give them the clear direction, such as improve the rub resistance to scale 5, so that they do not have to improve the gloss to scale 5.
  2. Authority
    The Freedom to act depends very much on the competence and maturity of the subordinate. You cannot give a child a sharp knife since he/she does not know the consequence and risk of a knife, but for a cook, you should give him/her freedom to choose the right knife.
  3. Support
    Without a proper support, the job will not be done, such as the cook, you have to give him/her the complete set of sharp knife since the cook knows the best way (better than you) when and where he/she should use which knife and come out with the best result. Some time, subordinate feel that they are not given the authority (freedom to act), but remember the degree of authority is growing linearly with your degree of competence and maturity. It also depends on your courage to take more responsibility.

If you just wait for order, may be you never get the order and stay in the same pit forever. If you feel you are ready to get more authority, discuss it with your superior, even sometime at the field you have to make decision which is a bit out of your current authority. In this case please analyze the risk, if you can bear the risk,


How to make empowerment work?

A lot of people are afraid of empowerment, they will only act when you give them order (thus to avoid making mistakes, no action = no mistake).

To set up a full-empowered team, you have to go through several steps:

  1. Select the right people
    You cannot carve out an excellent stature from a rotten wood. You cannot make good ink if you use rubbish raw material. You cannot get good result by surrounding you by a group of idiot or yes man.
  2. Train them well
    Improve their skill and competence, otherwise how can they work smart and help you to solve problem and grow. But I also find out that a lot of people just go for training and collect the certificate, after the course nothing change and nothing happen, the worst they apply for a new job, with a bunch of certificate they expect to get a better pay. How do you explain? Is this called: loyalty?
  3. Trust them
    No trust, no business. Trust your people OR get rid of them. Give them the freedom in their context and they will contribute their best with their own creative way.
  4. Control them
    Control people have no contradiction with trust them. With a good control system, they will get better direction and supports to perform even better. No control you do not know where they stand and what they need.
  5. Reward them
    Reward does not mean always money (off course money is important). Emphaty, promotion, a tap on the shoulder, complement and all kind of intangible which come out sincerely from the heart of a superior will re enforce the motivation for the subordinate to achieve a higher goal.

So how does an empowered subordinate look like?

If the Superior gives a direction: Dig a big hole to install a submersible solvent tank, the subordinate should ask: How big is the solvent tank, how fast you want it (so that you can decide to hire a dozen of people or simple a excavator), then ask for the support (budget accordingly, or training on how to install the tank properly).

And not just say: Yes Sir, but after a week only two guy cutting the grass, when asked why so late, the answer no money. We need pro-active people who want to make thing happen and not wait thing to happen (even worst if they wonder why it happens).

Enough digestion for Empowerment. Let make it happen.

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