Empowerment – Time to Make it Real

A few years ago I wasn’t a big fan of “empowerment” – it had become a meaningless phrase, and I used to believe that people don’t need to be empowered, as they already have all the skills, strengths and talent that they need, to deliver.

I was wrong.

If a widely used word has become meaningless, it needs a meaning, and people do need to be empowered in the sense that they need to know exactly what they are allowed to do, and what they are not. It’s all very well inviting people to seek forgiveness, not permission, however how does that translate into everyday activities?

I define empowerment for you (person) as being crystal clear how much freedom you have in your role – what you are allowed to do (which is usually more than you believe you are allowed to do).

And empowerment for you (organisation) as defining what those freedoms are, while defining clear boundaries that must never be crossed.

Welcome to The Way.

The Way is best described with a football analogy. In a game of football, there are certain principles (known in football as “laws”) – length of game, off-side etc. In addition there is how each team chooses to play the game – formations, style etc. – it is these freedoms on how a manager chooses to play and what the team do week on week that make them win, or lose.

The principles are the “way we do things around here”, the absolute givens of what will and will not happen, and the freedoms are the “I will do as I please,” within the boundaries set by the principles.

Your company sets up the principles that run across everyone – keep them clear (understandable), concise (brief) and compelling (a good business reason), and ensure that as many people as possible, have a say (you will be surprised by the common view). 

The freedoms are agreed with subsidiary companies, teams, projects etc.

Both principles and freedoms are revisited as needed, and may be updated periodically. While they are in place, and clear, they may be written in people’s job descriptions and/or performance reviews. Some organisations make it a dismissible offence to break a principle.

And one thing you are absolutely empowered to do, is to do whatever you need to do, to make this real in your organisation.

With thanks to Andrew Marks

And with my love and best wishes



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  • With thanks to Andrew Marks indeed. Top marks for the article!

  • I have always believed in empowerment and you are so right, David, it is an interesting subject you tackle, here. I will do my best not to break a company principle based on your correct assertion that this can mean the bullet in some cases.!

  • Empowerment can mean many things and once again it is all about how you interpret the word.
    You can give a meaning to anything in a different light to how it was intended.
    I tend to put a positive slant on most things and giving people the feeling of being in control in their job is a good thing.

  • Having a feeling that you are in control is a great one. As a woman to get that feeling when dealing with men in business is especially rewarding. There is nothing wrong with empowerment in my view as long as it is channeled correctly and the right people in the organisation get to be empowered.

  • Sometimes it is better not to be empowered and then nothing is expected of you.

  • Jonk

    Great subject of endless debate.
    With a probable link to the labels of ‘principles’ and ‘freedoms’ , for me, there is often a gap between actual empowerment conferred on employees by the Company, and their actual perceptions of empowerment – which are built on the everyday observations of what happens around them.
    For example, the empowerment to make good a customer grievance by sending them a bouquet of flowers or box of chocs is often undone by a complex corporate process for reclaiming the expenses. The same goes for overly-complex employee recognition schemes – not to mention the oh too familiar sight of shot messengers littering the corridors of our open and transparently communicating organisations.
    Encouraging and nurturing empowerment is critical to bridge the gap between good intentions and reality

  • I agree that there is room for empowerment. Unfortunately parents have had that taken away from them and the result, in part, is the rioting.

  • It is empowering for a boss to know that other people in the company are empowered. That way they can delegate with confidence.

  • I believe people need to be empowered to feel they are worthy of implementing the authority they have been given.
    It’s in the mind in a lot of cases. And being made to feel as though you have been given the authority helps a lot.

  • I agree that the people who are being empowered are made to feel that little bit special.
    That way they have higher self esteem too.

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