Empowerment: Theoretical Background and Applications

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In transitioning from traditional hierarchical management structure to a

more open, democratic and participative approach, a key issue many

organizations face is empowering their employees. Empowerment is defined

for purposes of this paper as the ability of employees to " . . . use more

judgment and discretion in their work and to participate more fully in

decisions affecting their working lives." (Potterfield, 1999, p. 2). This

paper includes an analysis of the theoretical background of empowerment and

why it is important to the teams-building process, a brief discussion of

empowerment procedures (including a guideline for devising an Empowerment

Measure), and a discussion of possible problems that would arise in the

process. Finally, there will be a critique of some of the empowerment


Empowerment: Theoretical Background And Application

The face of the contemporary workplace is drastically changing. More and

more companies are realizing the value of more "flat", democratic

organizational structure over the traditional autocratic, hierarchical

management styles. Teams-based or participative organizations are now

becoming the norm, instead of many layers of middle management making all

the decisions effecting their subordinate workers. As companies grapple

with these changes, a crucial step is employee empowerment. Specifically,

how capable are the workers within this new teams-based organization of

functioning without the supervision of middle management? How reliable and

dependable can their decisions be as they take a more active role in the

development of the organization? The notion of empowerment seeks to answer

these questions. According to Potterfield (1999), and for purposes of this

paper, empowerment will be best defined as a way of bestowing upon

employees "the power to use more judgment and discretion in their work and

to participate more fully in...
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