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Section 7  Empowerment Concept and Myths

          The word empowerment has been used a lot lately and many have become confused by it. The management guru who may have been the first on the scene to write about empowerment was Peter Block.  He addressed the topic in his book The Empowered Manager, originally published in 1987 and revised in 1991.  His theories assisted managers in renegotiating their new role in the organization and guiding their empowerment.  

[ Peter, Block. The Empowered Manager: Positive Political Skills at Work  (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers,1991), 103].

                 Peter Block further describes empowerment as a two-way collaborative effort that brings management and the staff members together and links their needs. It is a shared understanding between managers and staff members that the staff members are trusted and valued partners.

Because they are in the best position to assume responsibility for team results, the staff members will take action and make decisions that support the organizations goals and success. These actions and decisions will leverage resources in a competitive health care environment where speed, efficiency, innovation, and commitment to patient care are required.

The managers then act as coaches and mentors in aligning resources, assisting with the direction and providing a climate of trust and open feedback. So, how what does this mean for team building? Teams need to be empowered!

                The success of the organization is now in the hands of the staff members equipped to deliver the patient care services. Within the new empowerment concept the secret to success for team members is being provided with the goals, training and freedom to “own” their new demands and become fully accountable.

The staff members are now able to gain autonomy and fulfillment through their contribution to the organization and in the continuous development of their knowledge and skills.

                 Charles Gibson noted that empowerment is difficult to define and easier to understand by its absence. Powerlessness, helplessness, hopelessness and victimization define absence in empowerment.

 He also added that empowerment is a transitional and dynamic process during which the staff member has an opportunity to interact with their environment which enables them to do what ever they need to in order to become successful.

[Charles Gibson, “Concept Analysis and Empowerment, “ Journal of Advanced Nursing  1991; 32 (6): 245-252].  

Myths about Empowerment 

                In the effort to build teams in the workplace, it is important to examine some of the common myths about empowerment. Caroline Carr describes them below: 

Myth #1:

            In an empowered environment, the manager no longer gets credit for the unit’s accomplishments. Although it goes against common wisdom to raise the profile of their team members by putting them on center stage, it turns out that the managers of high performance teams usually receive more than less credit. Why is this the situation? 

·        The manager’s are known for developing talent in their organization.

·        Team members who get recognition, praise and public credit for their work become unstoppable and committed. This can lead to higher performance in areas that the manager is being measured and evaluated on.

·        News travels fast about who staff members like working for and that news can easily reach upper levels very quickly.

Myth #2:

            Team members are not capable of handling decision-making authority.

            It is true that some managers do not easily hand over major responsibilities without developing the team members who will carry them out. However, it is amazing how conscientious team members are when they are entrusted to handle something important on the unit or in the work area. Even if it is a stretch for them to master the necessary skills!

Managers who rarely delegate and develop new team members for responsibilities often find that their time and other resources are well spent, as their team members learn to handle patient care and departmental items quickly. In the case of irresponsible team members, no amount of skill development or coaching can make up for immaturity or weak character.

Myth #3:

            Team members need regular supervision in order to sustain productivity.

            Team members often need a structure that is more powerful than a manager keeping them busy and productive every moment of the day does. They need specific goals and measures that can be tracked themselves or in a group effort. When measures are in place and really guiding actions and decision, the output and efficiency can be observed and improved by the team as a whole. In the changing health care situation, the manager’s time and talents can be better used elsewhere.

Myth #4:

            Decisions at lower levels slow down the process and implementation.

            While the start-up time necessary for clarifying goals and training team members for optimal decision making may at first be a slow process, the increased resources freed up by delegation almost always speeds up the decision making in the ling run. It is important to set up the necessary training programs, and steps in the beginning so that mistakes can be corrected.

Myth #5:

            Managers will take the blame for the increase in serious mistakes.

            Allowing team members to take risks and sometimes fail is an important part of training them to assume responsibility. It is critical to avoid always “rescuing” team members before they make a mistake, so they don’t become dependent on a manager provided “safety net.” The gains made by having a committed, empowered team should far surpass any glitches that come up.

Myth #6:

            Allowing personal freedom for team members will lead to chaos in the workplace.

            It’s true that empowering team members leads them to do things differently. But, rather than chaos, it often leads to the discovery of new and better approaches that everyone on the team or in the department can use to their advantage.

Myth #7:

            Team members want autonomy but they don’t want responsibility.

            All organizations have whiners and complainers in their midst! It’s true that a small number of team members in the organization will probably have excuses about why it’s not their fault that their responsibilities are not being fulfilled. Even when you give them total freedom to handle it their way, there are some team members who will shrink responsibility.

 This is not a good reason to hold all team members back. A large majority will far surpass their previous performance when responsibilities are matched with the authority to make decisions affecting them.  

Myth #8:

            Team members really want the organization to take care of them.

            All of us want a certain amount of security and comfort in our jobs. But research has shown us repeatedly that team members are motivated far more by personal challenge and the opportunity to contribute something meaningful in their jobs, than they are by being taken care of in a paternalistic organization.  

Myth #9:

            Empowerment only works in certain environments and workplaces.

            Empowered staff members may look different in various clinical settings. The challenge is created when the manager recognizes the possibilities of creating a team while meeting the requirements of the organization while still maintaining cost effectiveness and enhanced profitability.

Myth #10:

            Management jobs become obsolete when team members are empowered.

            Research has shown that in settings where teams have been implemented, the role of the manager or supervisor has dramatically changed. However, with an empowered workforce, managers at all levels shift into a more, rather than less strategic role.

Putting out daily fires in staff situations becomes almost obsolete. The manager now has new goals and priorities of providing resources, training, and planning for the future needs of the unit or department.

[Caroline Carr. Teampower: Lessons from America’s Top Companies on  Putting Teamwork to Work  (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1992].

            The shift to empowerment is not always an easy shift to make. It often demands radical realignment of the beliefs about control systems and the levels at which decisions are made. A sincere effort at empowerment entails pushing the governance down to lower and lower levels in the organization. The payoff will be greater levels of quality and positive patient impact and satisfaction levels.

Impact of not Empowering Staff Members 

            Managers often underestimate the critical impact of words and actions on staff members. One careless phrase tossed off lightly can upset trusting relationships built over a long period of time. All staff members are human beings and in a job setting they need to feel that they are making a contribution and are appreciated for doing so. When managers refuse to greet them in a civil manner, or in other ways show disrespect, staff members do not feel empowered and can become dissatisfied with their jobs.

            Managers can often become so distracted that they fail to notice that they are being disrespectful. Certainly a requirement of empowerment and quality improvement is that managers look closely at the consequences of their disrespectful words and behavior.

  Providing honest feedback and answers to staff members is one of the best ways to show respect for staff members. Sometimes a simple “I don’t know the answer to that or can you help with a solution?” is far more appreciated than skillful evasion of bluffing. Demonstrating concern through actions rather than words show respect for staff members which is so essential to job satisfaction and performance.  

Characteristics of an Empowered Environment 

            Autonomy and fulfillment are goals of any organization that is interested in empowering its staff members. The characteristics listed below describe and empowered environment: 

·        Team members are focused on organizational goals.

·        Problems and mistakes are discussed openly.

·        Decisions are based on all available information and options.

·        Goals, mission and direction are communicated to all team members.

·        Cross-functional communication and collaboration occur on a regular basis.

·        Conflicts are open and constructive.

·        Feedback is timely and routine.

·        Staff members are excited and involved in their work.

·        Risk is considered a condition of growth.

·        Poor performance is confronted on a timely basis.

 ·   Staff members are rewarded for high creativity and innovation.