Empower or "Unempower"? Where Does The Line Get drawn?

Brian Beck PHR, MHROD
June 9, 2009 — 2,547 views  
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Listen to your employees!  Empower them to make decisions!  Avoid micromanaging!  Delegate and entrust your people to make decisions!  These are all ideas and concepts that are encouraged by OD consultants around the country.  It's good form too!  We in the corporate world appreciate these kinds of ideas and I have even written about a few of them to readers of HRResource.  The question is however, can there be a time when we as managers give too much of this to our staff?  When, if ever, do we cross the line and put our organization in jeopardy or create some kind of liability?

Does you staff feel too empowered?  I guess what I would need to know to really be able to see if I as a manager am still in control, is what kind of decisions do I allow my staff to make?  Perhaps it's a financial answer.  One might say that staff may make decisions up to a certain dollar amount.  For example, anything over $1,000.00 requires my signature as a manager.  Other examples might be project related, resource related, or staffing related.  Maybe what we should be asking is "what are my organization's highest priorities right now?"  We all know that priorities change often.  Perhaps our empowerment strategies can be defined under these parameters and with a little more detail. 

It's a shame to ask an employee to take on a task that we're not clear about and/or we don't offer enough guidance to complete the project.  We often ask or force, even empower people, to take on tasks that they simply aren't ready to do.  But, don't you agree that most employees will willingly take on that project because they don't want to let the manager down or they want to learn something from it?  Yes is the answer, and if they're not ready, perile often accompanies this. 

I've been asked by managers...."I have empowered, now how do I take back some of that?"  First of all, let's make sure that we avoid some of the items mentioned above.  Now if you feel complete, before making the move, consider morale and timing.  If a person isn't following the guidelines you set forth in regards to the empowered function or project, they cannot do the job and you need to make the change.  Empowerment is a two-way street.  Our staff, when empowered, also need to make sure that their managers are kept in the loop in regards to some decisions staff may make that appear to go against what a manager's comfort level may be.  That involves communication on both parts.  That involves an understanding and open manager/employee relationship.  If you have those feelings under control, you're already a huge step ahead of really creating a focused and empowered workforce.

Brian Beck PHR, MHROD


Brian J. Beck, PHR, M.H.R.O.D., has worked in the human resources field for over 15 years, focusing on recruitment/retention, HR strategic planning, organization and leadership development.