It's not just semantics LO6259

Starworks Consulting Group (
Wed, 27 Mar 1996 10:31:26 -0600

Replying to LO6240 --

In response to LO6240 -- It's not just semantics - empowerment; request for
other definitions

Dave and others, I have a definition(?) for empowerment that I'm not sure
is better but comes at the concept of empowerment from a rather different,
or additional view point. Most definitions describe empowerment as a
process that creates power. Another product of empowerment is energy -
particularly the sort of energy necessary to support, reinforce, and
encourage individual and organizational development.

In algebraic terms, empowerment might be expressed as E = (En)D -->P.
Note: --> is supposed to be an arrow graphic. Where empowerment(E) is
energy (En) that multiplies when it is developmental(D) in nature; the
greater the developmental energy, the greater the power(P).

This definition comes from an excellent book which addresses many aspects
of empowerment in a very detailed and enlightening fashion - "Empowerment
In Organizations" Judith F. Vogt & Kenneth L. Murrell, Pfeiffer & Company,
1990, ISBN 0-88390-238-9.

I was curious about how people would react to this definition in an
organizational setting - who as you already mentioned were having trouble
with empowerment definitions, - my experience is most people quickly and
easily role their eyes upon hearing the word empowerment. And I am always
looking for ways to facilitate discussions that treat empowerment with the
respect it deserves. So, I invited a group of my clients ( all senior
managers in an educational institution) to spend a few hours playing with
this definition hoping for some insights.

I briefly explained the above definition and with no further discussion
related to the definition asked them to draw pictures of what their
organization would look like if the goal was to increase energy. Imagine
the walls of a typical boardroom covered with multiple flip chart papers
as if to resemble an art gallery. The resulting collages developed by
small group of 2-3 people per flip chart were very interesting. Just to
give you a few examples - there were images of open office doors, people
actively learning, a string of paper clips as a boarder picture frame to
symbolize having the right materials to do the job, the word leadership in
bold letters inside a exploding shell, a boat with a captain pointing to
the future, a person slaying sharks in the water around the boat- this was
about impending cuts in funding, a collection of smiling faces in the
shape of an circular organization chart with the client at the centre, a
line-up of male and female stick people who were different colors and all
the same size, a work environment that resembled a forest with hammocks
for desks, and my personal favourite a full flip chart size wrist watch
with the words Time For Fun printed around the face.

And so what? Well, after an energetic and lively discussion of what the
pictures were saying about a desired future state the president ended the
session with a request for all the managers to consider the idea of
enlarging the 'art gallery' by having other employees make their own
pictures and see what that would look like - the flip chart pictures were
to be left on the wall until their next meeting. Unfortunately within two
weeks of this exercise the whole educational unit was closed due to budget
cutbacks - none of the people present had any idea this was about to
happen. I wonder what would have happened longer term? Having not had the
opportunity to replicate this activity with others I am still wondering
why this rather simple exercise generated such enthusiasm and whether or
not the energy created would have had enough momentum to carry through to
successful changes to individual and organizational empowerment?. I can't
quite figure out what happened that caused a markedly different discussion
about empowerment. Did the definition make the difference? Or was it the
process? The people? Or should I even care - if it works, use it?

Anyone care to enlighten?

Happy trails .... Bonnie

Bonnie Terry 
STARWORKS, HRD Consulting 

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