If you say to company executives or business owners, “Stop making decisions”, they may look at you a bit quizzically to begin with, unless they’ve heard it before, but then quickly realise what you’re saying is to ask their people to make their own decisions and push decision making down to the lowest appropriate level possible. This is empowerment – the delegated authority and responsibility to make decisions and act accordingly.
In a recent survey we asked business owners, MDs and CEOs to what extent employees were empowered in their organisations. In general, their perception was that employees in their organisations were very highly empowered. If complete empowerment of employees was 100, then, on average they perceived empowerment to be 82.4 ± 12. Interestingly, only 55.6% of the same respondents said that decisions were usually or always taken at the lowest level appropriate.
Given our definition of empowerment, what does that mean? It could mean that empowerment in practice may not actually be as high as empowerment in the mind and/or that empowerment in our leaders’ minds is not about delegated decision making.
This is supported by the finding that business leaders feel that their employees don’t necessarily have all of the information required to effectively make decisions.
For example, 94% of respondents declared that they do not share complete financial information with their employees and do not give them the opportunity to be involved in planning or forecasting.
However, 76.5% of respondents said that employees were usually or always involved in decisions that would affect them when a change was being considered. So it seems that involving people in decision making may be more important to our leader cohort, rather than expecting employees to make decisions.
There appears then to be a disconnect between how much leaders believe employees are empowered compared to what would constitute empowerment in practice.
To be fully empowered to make decisions in their role, employees need to have line of sight from their role directly to the financial results of the organisation and they need to be involved in the planning of organisational goals and objectives so they buy in to the goals and have ownership of what they need to do to help achieve them.
Otherwise, empowerment is a figment of our imagination; an intention not played out in practice.