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Discovery Surveys, Inc.
Specializing in Employee Opinion and Customer Satisfaction Surveys
WHAT EMPLOYEES AND MANAGERS CAN DO ABOUT EMPOWERING EMPLOYEES

By Ethel Cook, Corporate Improvement Group; and
Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. President, Discovery Surveys, Inc.

FRANK (THE ASSISTANT) SAYS:

"I don't have the decision-making authority I need to do my job well."

SANDY (THE MANAGER) SAYS:

"Frank, as much as I'd like to give you more authority, some things need to be decided by my manager or me. We all need to follow the chain of command here."

DILEMMA:

The employee wants to have more say in how he performs his work. The manager feels she needs to maintain control.

TYPICAL SCENARIO:
Frank is an experienced administrative assistant in the purchasing department of a small family-owned manufacturing firmwho has been supporting Sandy for two years. One day, while working at his desk, Frank received a call from a new long-distance telephone company. They said that they could save his company 50 percent in long distance charges.

Frank gathered all of the information to make this important decision. He talked to other phone companies, called the Better Business Bureau, and talked to his friends that work for other similar companies in the area.

Although Frank did not normally handle matters such as this at work, he felt comfortable doing so because he had made a similar decision for his home telephone. Armed with the results of his analysis, he then went to Sandy and said: "I think we should change our long-distance carrier. Here's why." Sandy listened patiently and then said, "I appreciate all of the good work you've done, Frank, but this is really something that I should handle." Frank leaves Sandy's office extremely frustrated and later returns to her office to ask if he can take the rest of the day off because he's not feeling well.

SOLUTION: WHAT THE ASSISTANT CAN DO.

Frank needs to change his approach with Sandy and clarify with her his level of decision-making. Right now he feels rebuffed and frustrated. Here are three things that Frank can try for now and in the future to gain that clarity.

  • Recognize Sandy's needs.

    Frank can recognize Sandy's need for control and plan a strategy for working more effectively with her. The next time he approaches her on a similar matter, he can be more sensitive to Sandy's personality and initiate the conversation with something like, "Sandy, I've been paying attention to the deals available with long distance carriers. I don't believe we've been getting the best deal. Would you like to see some information I've gathered for you?"

  • Initiate a meeting to gain clarity.

    Frank and Sandy need to sit down and make clear the level of Frank's decision-making authority. In other words, determine decisions that he can make on his own, and decisions that need to be made by Sandy.

  • Offer a trial.

    Frank can Offer a trial on a specific decision-making area so that Sandy can gain confidence in his abilities. He can review specific situations and present his decisions to Sandy. Sandy can accept, reject or accept them with modifications. They can both use this as a learning experience to improve their team-of-two effectiveness.

SOLUTION: WHAT THE MANAGER CAN DO.

Our employee survey research, with over 40 participating organizations, shows that 39 percent of all employees do not feel they have the decision-making authority they need to do their jobs well. Here area some suggestions for how managers can empower their employees.

  • Recognize that part of the problem is you.

    Delegating authority and empowering others is one of the keys to successful management. Sandy needs to take a hard look at her management style and ask herself, why she is reluctant to delegate authority? Is she concerned about losing control? Does she perceive Frank as a threat to her job security?

  • Clarify the situation.

    here are clearly some aspects of Frank's job over which he can have total authority, and others that he can not. Sandy should explain to Frank where the line falls and why. These decisions should be based upon what's best for the business.

  • Learn how to delegate.

    Sandy needs to attend a training session, read a book, or talk to other managers to learn how to become a better delegator. She must learn the benefits and techniques of empowering her employees.

CONCLUSION :

Managers should continually focus on how they can push decision-making authority down the organization. Power is not a zero-sum game. If more authority is exerted by employees at lower levels, the organization as a whole will be more powerful and effective.

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