EMPLOYEE EMPOWERMENT: A CRUCIAL INGREDIENT IN A TOTAL QUALITY MANAGEMENT STRATEGY.
1. Quality starts with People.
A sound total quality management (TQM) implementation process should be concerned with more than just the mechanical aspects of the change. Instead, it should focus on improving the more indirect value characteristics of the organization such as trust, responsibility, participation, harmony and group affiliation. Empowerment, the most important concept in TQM, is many things, since employees must be empowered to make the necessary organizational changes (Stevens, 1993). The concept of empowerment is based upon the belief that employees needs the organization as much as the organization needs them and that leaders understand that employees are the most valuable asset in the firm.
2. Participative management- more than a management buzzword.
Participative management has become a key word in empowerment. Research has shown that there is a positive link between participation and satisfaction, motivation and performance (Holander, Offerman, 1990: 183). "The self-managed work team is a new way of viewing the relationship of the worker-management-organization" (Keighley,1993: 6). Employee involvement teams, which consists of small groups of employees who work on solving specific problems related to quality and productivity represent one way of particpatitve management. Such teams have proved effective in resolving problems related to productivity and quality, as well as improved employee morale and job satisfaction (Bartol, Martin, 1991: 650).
Whatever the definition is, participative management requires responsibility and thrust to employees. It is important that management recognizes the potential of employees to identify and to derive corrective actions to quality problems (Stevens, 1993: 20). However, according to Stevens (1993: 20), if management refuses to act upon team recommendations, "the team members' faith in the quality program will be destroyed."
Furthermore, critics argue that employees may be given the impression that TQM and employee empowerment is just another management buzzword, and that the decision making process is still dominated at the top of the organizational hierarchy (Scully, 1993: 453). In many organizations, this traditional labor division is the principal cause why managers finds it difficult to delegate responsibility. Scully (1993: 455) also argues that to some people empowerment means more delegation in form of indirect control. Moreover, Stevens (1993: 18) stresses that some subordinates may view empowerment as abandonment and that it leads to organizational anarchy.
3. "We are all in it together."(Bluestone, 1992: 34)
"Workers affected by proposed changes must be involved in the decision to change, else they will fight progress" (Magjuka, 1993: 63). In an empowered organization, people should not expect to be told what to do, but they should know what to do. The primary role of management is "to support and stimulate their people, co-operate to overcome cross functional barriers, and work to eliminate fear within their own team" (Hand, 1994: 25).
However, many supervisors think that empowerment may lead to them loosing authority and ultimately their jobs. Therefore, it is logical that most of the resistance to empowerment comes from the middle management (Keighley, 1993: 7). Keighley argues that this resistance to change can be reduced by setting, measuring and evaluating performance together with the team (1993: 8). Likewise, Hand argues that supervisors and managers should be trained in order to cope with organizational change (1994: 24).
In addition, managers argue that employees are unable to get the whole picture of the organization, and that they are not all qualified to make decisions. Dobbs (1993: 55) argues that work-teams are unable to see the connection between process improvements and the overall strategy and profitability of the firm.
4. Empower from the "bottom up".
The most important concept of empowerment is to delegate responsibility to the lowest levels in the organization. The decision making process should be to a high degree decentralized and individuals or work designed teams should be responsible for a complete part of work processes (Lawler, 1994: 70).
For instance, Saturn, a highly successful American car manufacturer, empowered its employees by turning assembly lines into dedicated process oriented work stations solely managed by the work team. Even the design process involves a high degree of employee participation. In the Saturn case, empowerment became directly linked to responsibility, and employees make suggestions how to improve processes (Bluestone,1992:38). Stevens suggests that "the ultimate success of a quality program is based on its ownership by employees and their empowerment to make changes" (1993: 20). It is crucially important that management value employee suggestions and manage accordingly. Naturally, workers directly involved in a process knows best how to improve it (McMillan, Mahoney. 1994: 177). In an Empowered organization, employees feel responsible beyond their own job, since they feel the responsibility to make the whole organization work better.
Lawler (1994: 71) does to a certain extent oppose the ideas mentioned in this section. He argues that employee empowerment does not directly constitute to the success of a TQM program since quality is always on the center stage in such a strategy. Opposite to this, employee empowerment is usually the result of an organization's strategy and technology, focusing not only on how to improve cost, speed, and efficiency through quality improvements (Lawler, 1994: 71).
5. Employees- The most important asset in organizations.
Empowered personnel have "responsibility, a sense of ownership, satisfaction in accomplishments, power over what and how things are done, recognition for their ideas, and the knowledge that they are important to the organization" (Turney 1993: 30). Without productive employees, the organization is nothing and can do nothing. Empowerment works the best when employees need their organization as much as the organization needs them, "and the need is much more than a paycheck and benefit package" (Johnson, 1993: 47).
Johnson (1993: 47) is aware that there is a belief that employees only work to get monetarily compensated. However he argues that it is only true when employees are not able to play an integral part of the organization. Likewise, Mahoney, McMillan (1994) propose that the empowerment process is only successful when there is room for feedback and autonomy in the organizational culture. Only in such a scenario, it is possible to fully utilize the capabilities of your employees. The golden rule is that "leaders have to treat their employees the way they want the bosses to treat them" (Johnson, 1993: 47).
6. Treat Your employees the way you want your customers to be treated.
The most crucial critical success factor in TQM is to recognize the importance of living up to customers expectations (Johnson, 1993: 47). It is important to understand that there is a positive correlation between satisfying internal customers and meeting external customers needs. "Employees who are not treated correctly cannot be expected to treat external customers differently" (Johnson, 1993: 47). Internal satisfaction can be achieved in the following ways: establish a high degree of participative management, decentralization of hierarchy power structures, create a large degree of autonomy throughout the organization and finally the development of effective work groups. All these ways are based on the concept of employee empowerment.
Employee empowerment is more than a management buzzword and a text-book definition. It is a new way of managing organizations towards a more complex and competitive future. A TQM strategy is deemed to fail if empowerment of employees is absent. Quality starts with engaging the people responsible for processes- the people who know the processes the best. The people whom critics argue are unable to understand the holistic aspects of the organization. However, partcipative management has proven very successful in fostering responsibility, motivation and belongingness in organizations with high autonomy and flexibility.
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Label: EMPLOYEE EMPOWERMENT