Regulating employee empowerment … really !?!

Of late, employee empowerment is being used more and more as some sort of a synonym of labour law. The Democrats in USA have introduced a bill to have labour rights constitutionally recognised. On a completely different front, someone once told me, “if you feel that you are losing an argument, start correcting the grammar of your adversary”. One author has added “explaining terminology” to that approach.  Whilst the authors of the articles New Bill Defines Labour Rights as Civil Rights, Congressman Wants to Make Unionisation a Civil Right does inform the reader by reporting political events taking place in a bid to “give labour law additional heft” (Ellison, 2014), the terminology seems to be taking a whole new meaning in it’s political context as compared to the more widely known, albeit rather hazy notions, no thanks to such fads as events of this ilk bring to the forth.

Eidlin (2014) on the other hand, has taken on a more measured approach in his bid to explain the pros and cons of the so-called “Employee Empowerment Bill”. He points out that “the problem is two-fold” in that “legal strategies (…) displace the conflict between workers and employers from an organising context where workers play a leading role and build their own power to a legal one where workers must rely on experts to fight for them.” and goes on to demonstrate “it’s inability to prevent employers’ from interfering with workers’ decision to unionise” but rather “reinforce the very dynamics that have allowed employers to turn labour law in their (own) favour”.

Employee empowerment, in my view, occurs within the organisation and is the result of the management and workforce communicating effectively and working together. This collaboration between the two traditional adversaries unquestionably favours a marked improvement in the efficiency and efficacy of the organisation’s operations, which in turn has a positive impact on the organisation’s ROI and profit.

That said, to improve communication, one has to audit it first to know what is good and should be kept and what is not, and should be improved. Such subtle changes can also bring about a marked improvement in the operations on the one hand, thereby (and almost automatically) weeding out the ineffective processes of the organisation. However, it must also be said that one of the prerequisites of employee empowerment is a mutual goodwill on behalf of both parties: the management and the workforce. The use of force or wielding power or holding the other in contempt is by far the worst manner in which to seek the organisation’s progress. Quite to the contrary, such short-sighted behaviour will very probably lead to it’s downfall by way of falling profits and the resulting “human resource streamlining” that is the management’s usual response.

When Risher (2014) wrote his article It’s Time to Focus on Empowerment and Recognition, he recognises that “engagement and satisfaction are not the same (…) Satisfied is not the same as satisfaction.” The author then explains that each researcher has a different take on what engagement is. Now engagement is directly proportional to empowerment, which entails employees knowing what’s expected, what they can expect, that they are working on something important and related to their employer’s mission, and that their work effort is valued.”

In one of the economic giants of the future and talent and population giants of today, India voted it’s most admired organisations based on “two criteria in particular: corporate governance and social impact.” (Ganesan, 2014)

In communicating with it’s workforce, the management can broadcast these and messages , and from time to time multicast or unicast them by recognising efforts of a site, a department, a team or even an individual.

My years of experience have taught me that communication requires from both all involved stakeholders to talk to each other rather than talking at or about each other. If all efforts have failed, then legal and legislative experts have also to realise that just like communication or financial experts can not come up with the best laws, legal experts cannot be at the source of the best adapted communicational or financial solutions. To get workforce and management communicating with each other; as in most other cases in society, regulating generally leads to people seeking (and often, finding) loopholes. It might do your statistical ego a world of good but may not reflect the whole picture. Employee empowerment, employee engagement, employee satisfaction and employee recognition should be left in the hands of individual organisations to overcome as best they come to terms with each other, whilst recognising that each one of the parties needs the other to exist. And to conclude let me quote the unforgettable words attributed to one of the forefathers of modern America, Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”, which, in my view,  goes hand-in-hand with “We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us.” (Ken Levine). 

Enough said!

Reference:

B. Eidlin (2014), “Latest Pro-Labour Reform Proposal Might Actually Undermine Labour”, Truthout, available at http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/25284-latest-pro-labor-reform-proposal-might-actually-undermine-labor, seen on 6.8.2014

K. Ellison (2014) in B. Vail (2014), “New Bill Defines Labour Rights as Civil rights, In These Times, Institute for Public Affairs, Chicago, USA

S. Ganesan (2014), “ITC, L&T, HUL: India’s most admired companies”,  PTI,  available at http://zeenews.india.com/business/news/companies/itc-landt-hul-indias-most-admired-companies_105568.html viewed on 22.8.2014

K. Levine (n.d.), available from http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/350677.Ken_Levine viewed on 24.8.2014

 

How empowered does an employee feel as an owner?

Can an employee be empowered to the point of acting as the owner of an organisation? Is empowerment all about relinquishing control? If not, how can the leaders of the organisation actually keep the power whilst empowering the subordinates?

Holmes (2013) touches on the subject somewhat squarely by alluding to “training employees to take full advantage of new sales opportunities” So in essence, the investment is manifold in that the employer provides the training, invests in the time of his employees that undergo the training, and what goes without saying, will incentivise any efforts made by sales force to up the sales figures’ and market share ante. All of it, at the very risk of seeing them walk away to the competition and employ his training to his own detriment.

As such, if the employer does make them aware of their responsibilities (empower, I’m told), by treating the company as their own, but fails to make them feel that they are running their own company and has them running to him better job involvement, suggestion to improve or even every operational decision, give-away, then the employee will be right to feel disinherited by his employer who only feigns to adopt the leadership path. At the advent of the first best opportunity beyond the known pastures of the organisation, and into the greener pastures of the outside world, the employee is bound to seize it and run with renewed energy, albeit a more circumspect approach.

So you might well ask, what stops employers and managers from empowering their subordinates? Because most of them have only thought of it without really considering it any more seriously. Bowen and Lawler III (1994:422) point out “Many lessons have been learned in manufacturing about how to best use quality, circles, enriched jobs, and so on. And the added good news is that many service businesses are ideally suited to applying and refining these lessons.”

Let us just hope that current managers, and employers of service businesses, especially multisite ones, will be able to take ownership of the situation and adapt empowering approaches to their specific needs on the one hand, but that there will be studies carried out to get the information out into the world to prove that employee empowerment, employed correctly, will bring unexpected results with itself.

Can empowerment be quantified? If so, how much empowerment is good, how much is satisfactory and how much is insufficient? If, however, it cannot be quantified, how does one then go about getting dependable and objective data from a field of subjective practices amongst others?

Quantifying employee empowerment is best possible within the context of its application to a business, a site or a department. Let me explain: if employee turnover was the issue that triggered the measures, then one can evaluate the reduction of employee turnover. If employee empowerment was introduced to improve sales figures, then either the sales team needed to be empowered with added responsibilities but also the authority to decide what works best for each salesperson. The diversity of approaches will bring not only a better understanding through varied market analyses which are all going to be based on individual analytics. If, on the other hand, the empowerment was introduced to improve communication within the organisation, various tools can allow a very objective evaluation of intra-organisational communication

Reference:

D.E. Bowen and E.E. Lawler III (1994), “The empowerment of service workers: what, why, how and when”, The training and development Sourcebook, Ed. C. E. Schreiner, Human Resource Development Press Inc. Massachusets, USA, available at http://www.google.lu/books?hl=en&lr=&id=vnyFFWL0loEC&oi=fnd&pg=PA413&dq=employee+empowerment,+profit&ots=ag_EOFicdw&sig=T6MndRsvcdwgsz7ZvbpcCETaan4&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=employee%20empowerment%2C%20profit&f=false accessed on 1.4.2014

C. Holmes (2013), “Growth coaching must balance technology with employee empowerment”, the Chet Holmes Method, availabe at http://www.chetholmes.com/tips-and-advice/?p=29#sthash.EvRtCBvq.dpuf accessed on 1.1.2014