Empowerment is providing employees with what they need so that they continually increase their individual and collective influence, authority and accountability within "fences" - appropriate limits or boundaries.

In "empowered organizations", the focus of motivation, initiative and accountability is away from organizational hierarchy

and towards the individual


Empowerment must be an evolutionary process and composed of the following elements:


  • participation is the opportunity to influence decisions by having one's ideas/viewpoints heard and truly valued; and, an acceptance of the obligation to take responsibility and accountability - including consequences positive or negative - for effectively implementing and supporting decisions made.
  • organizations must commit to the philosophy of seeking input in decisions from those significantly impacted and/or affected by a decision.

  • organizations must shift the balance of decision making types from a preponderance of Type 1 to the proper balance of Types 1, 2, 3 and 4 as described in attachment 1.
  • the individual accountable for the results of the decision in an area/function should lead a process of determining the respective type(s) of decision-making (attachment 1) that will normally be applied to the decisions made within his/her area or responsibility. This process must take place in advance of really moving forward with "empowerment".
  • regardless of the type of decision making employed, gathering input and interacting with appropriate individuals and functions to guide the decision making process must become an expected norm of behavior on the part of all employees who occupy leadership/decision making positions.


"Empowerment" and "participation" are two-way streets. Leaders must provide the opportunity, skills, support and coaching to employees to encourage their input and participation. Employees, on the other hand, must accept responsibility and accountability for results - and their consequences - when they have been effectively involved in the decision making process.


Empowerment and participation as well as involvement in the decision-making process requires that employees have access to and understanding of the information required to fully participate. Leaders must be committed to and responsible for providing needed information in ways that are meaningful for participants consistent with legitimate business and confidentiality constraints.

Skills and tools
Empowerment, participation and involvement in the decision-making process requires that all employees have the skills and tools needed for effective participation. Leaders must be committed to and responsible for providing these skills and tools to all employees who are to take advantage of them and to provide these skills and tools at the time and in the manner most helpful to those employees.

Role and behavior changes

The role and behavior of all employees who occupy positions of leadership and authority in an organization must change, dramatically and visibly, if empowerment, participation and involvement in the decision making process is to occur in a meaningful and constructive manner. Leaders must see their roles not as the ones who solve the problem and/or have the answer. Rather, they must see their roles as the one who facilitates getting the right people together at the right time with the right information and tools so that the right decisions are made by the right people!

Structure, policies, procedures and practices
Leaders must insure that policies, practices, structures and procedures support the empowerment process. All policies and structures must match the values inherent in an empowered work force.

Start "tight" then "loosen up";
not the other way around.

As the process of empowerment in begun, leaders must take great care not to, inadvertently, create a situation in which employees feel they have been " set up". Oftentimes, leaders announce empowerment, leading employees to believe that they are "empowered" to make decisions that

a. they should not be making,
b. ones for which they are not - at the time - capable of making. Or
c. around which realistic and appropriate "fences" (limits and boundaries) have not been articulated.
The result is that leaders then have to "pull the employees back" causing them to feel that they have been "set up to fail".

When all else fails, ask them!

Leaders wishing to implement empowerment should engage employees within their area of accountability in a facilitated dialogue to determine the:

a. decision making type (attachment 1) that will normally be in place for the decisions to be made in the area;
b. information, skills and tools required that will enable employees to be responsibly involved;
c. "fences" (appropriate limits and boundaries) within which employees must operate; and,
d. a mutually agreed upon implementation plan - for which ALL are mutually responsible - for moving towards a truly empowered work environment

Absent the successful implementation of this type of process, expectations of all employees will go unmet and "empowerment" will become just another failed program or promise!

CAVEAT: It is not empowerment when the boss says "You're empowered, but check with me before you do anything."

Attachment 1
Individual makes decision alone using available information. May or may not make requests of and/or interact with others in gathering facts to assist in the decision making.
Communications options:
a. others don't even need to know; no need to tell anyone else; or,
b. advise others before the decision is implemented; or,
c. advise others after the decision is implemented
Individual shares the problem, question, situation with others and gathers their suggestions/input. Individual then makes the decision that may or may not coincide with their input.
Communications options:
a. advise others of situation, decision to be made and alternatives; involve them in determining best solution; or,
b. advise others of situation, decision to be made, alternatives and preferred solution; implement preferred solution unless others provide input that changes decision makers mind
Individual shares the decision situation with others and works with others as colleagues to determine best decision. Individual does not attempt to influence through use of authority and is willing to accept and implement the consensus of the group.
Communications options:
a. advise others of the event and engage in joint problem solving; or,
b. advise others of the event and ask them to come back with recommendations for discussion and consensus building.
Individual and others agree that the "others" will make the decision in the most appropriate manner.
Communications options:
a. others inform individual of decision made before implementation; or,
b. others inform individual of decision made after implementation; or,
c. others implement the decision and need not inform individual.
Attachment 2

1. Examples of situations where people felt "empowered" or "disempowered"

2. Examples of situations where people felt that they were "disempowered".

3. Implications of "empowerment" on leaders