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Empowerment encourages initiative by employees


Life's a bitch!" muttered a medical technologist, as she realized that she had just spilled a tube of patient's blood. When she went for the backup sample, the problem worsened. There was not enough remaining specimen for another test.

Of course, the patient's physician was furious when the technologist notified her. "This is the second sample you've ruined from this patient!" the physician shouted. "He lives one hundred miles away and he has already left!"

"Doctor, I understand," responded the technologist. "We'd be glad to send someone to the patient's home to draw another sample and the patient will not be charged for the test." (The test cost more than $500.)

Was this technologist empowered? Absolutely. Why? Because she made this decision spontaneously and without approval from her manager.

Although many managers speak of empowering employees, few employees actually feel empowered. Empowerment is the ability of front-line employees to act in the best interest of their customers without having to get their actions approved.

Employees are not empowered if they have to get a manager's approval to deviate from a normal procedure -- such as require a sales receipt for all returns over $50. Nor are employees empowered if they dread disapproval from their managers for making decisions beyond their authority.

Empowerment encourages front-line employees to act on their own initiative. Empowered employees also confidently make suggestions for improvement, knowing they will get a quick response from managers.

Management quiz

Which of the following could your employees do without prior approval from you?

1. Make a $2,000 refund to an unhappy customer.

2. Guarantee a special delivery date to a good customer.

3. Purchase for a customer an item that you do not typically carry.

4. Grant a customer a special discount on a large order.

5. Decide what adjustment a customer should get on damaged goods.

6. Make a refund without a sales slip.

7. Offer free service if initial service was poorly delivered.

8. Stop the assembly line.

9. Deviate from standard procedures to improve quality.

10. Work overtime to resolve a customer problem.

If you checked seven or more, there is a high probability that your employees feel empowered.

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