Defining Empowerment LO7682

Dave Birren, MB-5, 608-267-2442 (
Thu, 30 May 1996 08:40 CST

Replying to Diane Korzeniewski in Defining Empowerment LO7662:

Diane asks: "Is it possible for participants on this list to come up with
a mutually acceptable definition or description [of empowerment]?

I use the following definition.

A Definition of Empowerment

Empowerment (one possible definition): The quality of the relationship
between management and staff characterized by management's providing, and
staff accepting, the authority, responsibility and resources necessary to
perform a complete set of tasks.

Empowerment rests on three basic concepts: direction, freedom and support.
If one is removed, the other two lose their meaning and empowerment no
longer exists.

1. *Direction* is the charge or mission, the statement that tells the
workers what is needed. It includes definitions of desired outcomes,
quality specifications, and enough other information to make it clear
what is desired.

2. *Freedom* is the ability of the workers to do the job they have been
given. It includes the latitude to make operational decisions within
the boundaries of the charge, without being second-guessed or undercut
by the managers.

3. *Support* is providing the resources necessary to do the job. It
includes managers accepting work products and implementing decisions
that are consistent with the direction provided, even if they disagree
with the details.

A Behavioral Implication of Empowerment

Under an empowerment model, providing support means that no decision is
ever reversed without the participation of the person or group who made
the decision in the first place. Not only does this enable the person
considering the reversal to learn more about the situation, but it also
reinforces the empowerment concept by sending a clear message of trust and
respect. The only exception to this is a bona fide emergency, where there
is no time to review the change before it is made. And even then, the
decision-maker must be involved as soon as possible after the event; not
just informed, but brought into the issue to deal with the consequences.

A Few Tests of Empowerment

The following questions are offered in the spirit of providing practical
assistance to managers who are serious about sustaining an empowered work

-- Do those who depend on you for resources feel they have the resources
they need to do their work? If there are insufficient resources to go
around, do they understand the reasons they're short - and do they have
the authority to prioritize their work?

-- Do you change decisions made by those below you? Do people bring these
issues to you? Do they think you'll do something about them? If so,
what is it about your behavior or style that encourages them?

-- Are you willing to listen and humbly act on what you hear, without
retribution, shooting the messenger, or exerting control in a way that
diminishes others' proper roles?

-- Do you tend to "circle the wagons" in times of stress, or do you open up
to new information?

For what it's worth.



David E. Birren Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources Phone 608-267-2442 Fax 608-267-3579

"Teach thy tongue to say 'I do not know' and thou shalt progress." - Maimonides

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