Strategic performance empowerment model

Gary D. Geroy
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

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Phillip C. Wright
University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

Joan Anderson
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
Introduction Empowerment has become one of the most salient concepts in modern management theory and practice. Definitions vary, but for the purposes of this paper, empowerment is defined as: the process of providing employees with the necessary guidance and skills, to enable autonomous decision making (including accountability and the responsibility) for making these decisions within acceptable parameters, that are part of an organizational culture. Similarly, Vogt (1997), defined empowerment as the act of giving people the opportunity to make workplace decisions by expanding their autonomy in decision making. Empowerment also has been described as the breaking down of traditional hierarchical structures, as in an empowered organization, the line personnel closest to a problem, are given the authority to solve the problem (Blanchard, 1997). The concept has spanned cultures and industrial sectors. Morales (1997), for example, has quoted a fellow Mexican, Freddie Lopez, as suggesting that empowerment is “training employees to offer each other trust, support, education, ideas, respect and motivation with the aim of developing each person’s skills”. Lopez also commented that empowerment must be a process and a long-term commitment that is incorporated into a company’s growth strategy, so as to motivate and to breed loyalty among workers. Indeed, employees who have autonomous decision making capabilities, can act as business partners, keeping watch on profitability (Ettorre, 1997). From a service perspective, empowerment gives employees the authority to make decisions concerning customer service. True empowerment means that employees can bend and break rules to do whatever is necessary (within reason) to take care of the customer (Tschohl, 1997). In other words, empowerment is the “wisdom to know what to do, the will to do what needs to be done, and the wherewithal to do it” (Troyer, 1997, 27). This paper will outline many of the problems and the myths that surround empowerment. Then, through the use of a Strategic Performance Empowerment Model, we will discuss pragmatic methods that will help managers to make this key concept part of their own corporate reality.

Empowerment in Organizations, Vol. 6 No. 2, 1998, pp. 57-65. © MCB University Press, 0265-671X

Empowerment in Current issues Vogt (1997), in his paper, “Transfer of Power” discusses two, often overlooked, Organizations factors: (1) empowerment has boundaries, and (2) empowerment requires skills, 6,2 58

including decision making, problem solving and the ability to gather and to use data. As to boundaries, Blanchard (1997) talks of creating autonomy through boundaries, as a key to successful empowerment. The problem is that many managers fear losing control when they give up some decision making power to another employee (Vogt, 1997). Trust is a critical component of empowerment, therefore, in that we must trust the people we empower (Mountford, 1997). But the trust has limits; systems and policies still need to be developed that protect both the employee and the manager. A hotel employee might be allowed (even encouraged) to spend $200 to make a guest’s stay memorable, but $1,000 probably would be excessive. Employees need to be given boundaries within which to innovate. Mountford also discusses accountability – a measurement system that monitors employees who make decisions about productivity, quality and profit. Ward, (1996), claims that accountability is the key to successfully empowering employees. Three conditions, however, must be met. First, managers must assess the capabilities of employees to perform a particular task. Second, managers must lead in a manner that gives employees these capabilities and third, managers and employees must understand completely the structure in which tasks are to be carried out. It is not enough, then, to state: “We are an empowered organization”. Managers need to change the way they manage. They need to overcome fears to perceived loss of control, concerns about employee competence and doubts as to whether or not employees possess the necessary skills. Perhaps the managers’ main fear, however, is how their jobs might change. Indeed, many feel they may become redundant (Perry, 1997). Another, much different, issue is that managers do not know if empowerment has any effect on profitability. The concept remains difficult to quantify. Ettorre (1997), for example, suggests that for empowerment to be measurable, there must be a direct relationship to the organization’s strategic goals and accountability at every level in the hierarchy, calling for a kind of courage, honesty and strategic tracking foreign to most managers. The list of concerns and fears that impede the application of empowering management techniques continues: (1) Consultant Thomas McCoy (President of T. J. McCoy and Associates) suggests that many managers are afraid of allowing employees to take action, because they don’t feel that employees understand the ramifications of their decisions on the organization’s costs and profits. (2) Tschohl (1997) writes that some managers don’t trust the customer. They feel that by empowering employees to bend the rules, customers will take unfair advantage. They don’t trust the ability of front line employees to make decisions.

(3) Employees too, may fear empowerment, especially when they make decisions, as they are taking risks that could lead to reprimand or firing. Jordan (1997), however, found that in an achievement-oriented environment, when employees are empowered to do what is right, guided by their knowledge of organizational values and their own personal beliefs, they generally will make the right decisions. Thus, Crouch (1997) indicates that although many innovative managers are beginning to dislike the word “empowerment”, fundamental concepts behind the idea are critical to organizational success. Even so, autonomy cannot be given without perimeters, or chaos will result until an appropriate framework is put in place. The truly professional manager, therefore, knows that in order to have power, one must give up power (Champy, 1997). Despite the reticence to adopt empowerment strategies, companies in which staff are empowered consistently outperform their competitors, as employees begin to accept more and more responsibility. It has also been found, for example, that managers who don’t promote personal development, tend to lose the best employees to more forward thinking companies (Brown, 1997). The strategic performance empowerment model How then, do employees become empowered? What are the attributes of an empowered employee? What characteristics must employees possess in order to be truly “empowered”? These questions have lead to the development of a model designed to optimize employee potential. Within the strategic performance empowerment model, three key variables (1. coaching or mentoring; 2. peer and supervisor modeling; 3. career path development and strategies), must be present to provide employees with the guidance and the skills necessary to become empowered employees (see Figure 1). 1. Coaching Cleary (1995), defined coaching as an informal, planned, ongoing process for interacting with employees. The goals of coaching are to improve job performance by increasing employees’ capability for managing their own performance. A coach has been defined as someone who cares about human dignity and spiritual growth (Jones, 1995), while simultaneously adding value to an organization by helping the staff learn, grow and develop (Phillips, 1995). To be effective, coaching must cut across hierarchies and functional boundaries, e.g., managers coach subordinates, and peers coach peers (Peters, 1996), so that all employees become more adaptive to change. It is through the process of learning that change takes place (Phillips, 1995). The coach, however, is not a teacher, but a partner who introduces others to challenges, options and alternative behaviors (Witherspoon, 1996). Witherspoon pulls coaching even further away from the teaching environment by suggesting that the focus of coaching should be less on teaching new techniques, than on being a helper. He defines coaching as a

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Coaching -Peer -Superior Modeling -Peer -Superior

Empowered Organization Employee Potential

Figure 1. Users and non-users of DFM

Career Path Development -Individual -Organizational

process whereby the employee is given guidance in assessing his/her own performance, obtains feedback on strengths and weaknesses and learns new behaviors and skills. The coach does not tell employees what to do, but rather helps them be better than they already are (Brown, 1997). Brown cautions however, that coaching can never omit the transfer of basic skills. Warner (1996) concludes that coaching, as a proactive behavior, is one of the best ways to ensure that employees improve and become consistently more productive. Coaching is different from old-fashioned performance appraisals and evaluations, as the process focuses on what people are doing right and on ways they can capitalize on their strengths to improve further. Coaching, then, has two main goals, to increase skill levels, and to modify behavior by discarding undesirable behaviors and learning more effective ones (Coppola, 1995).1 The proper use of coaching then, is linked directly to empowerment. Coaches setup environments where individuals feel able to make decisions for themselves, by developing self-confidence and beliefs in oneself and in others (Oncken, 1997). This practice leads to higher quality performance, and ultimately, to the “empowered organization” (Willard, 1995).

2. Modeling It has often been said that behaviors speak louder than words – this is the essence of the modeling concept in employee development – as we communicate more by what we do, than by what we say (Crouch, 1997). Many of the messages received by employees are nonverbal, yet this important opportunity to influence behavior often is overlooked (Horsfall, 1996). Behavior modeling can be defined as the study of personal excellence, as employees tend to emulate those whom they admire and respect (Alder, 1992). Even where managers or entrepreneurs are not an object of admiration, however, they can become a model for planned development. Modeling, then, is part skills-based training. Using discussions, demonstrations, role-playing and feedback, skills can be taught. Modeling, however, also is value based. Behavioral change cannot always be brought about solely by changing skill levels. There are many studies that document the measurable effects of modeling on training (Zenger, 1991). Supported by 20 years of research, behavior modeling has been considered to be one of the most effective forms of employee development. Indeed, Pescuric & Byham (1996), suggest that modeling is the most effective means of developing skills and changing behavior. Wilhelm (1992), also indicates that modeling is the single most effective means of affecting behavioral change in corporations. Practical implementation, however, is most difficult, as large-scale organizational change requires each successive level to model the behavior that is expected of subordinates. Thus, understanding the link between the behavior of leaders and employee performance is critical (McNeese-Smith, 1993). By setting high standards, providing examples, stating clear values and maintaining behaviors that follow these values, managers will build commitment, and commitment is an ingredient essential to the empowerment process.2 3. Career path development The body of literature related to career planning continues to grow, as future managers must be increasingly flexible and possess multiple skills (McNutt, 1995). From both an organizational and an individual perspective, career planning can start as early as the hiring stage. Through proper selection techniques, placement and nurturing, defined career paths can be developed. The recognition of accomplishments, increases in the level of responsibility and opportunities for advancement foster a sense of commitment and job satisfaction (Miller, 1997). Similarly, Charter-Scott (1997) found that managers who earned the highest respect from their employees, were concerned with goals, career paths and growth, a position supported by Crouch’s (1997), work on successful management styles. Crouch suggests that managers should work constantly toward improving skills, linking this philosophy to both the individual perspective (this type of development keeps employees suited to their jobs), and the organizational perspective – skills enhancement helps managers to prepare their corporation for the future.

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Empowerment in The link between coaching and modeling Although little supporting research has been found, we argue that a strong link Organizations exists between coaching and modeling, as good coaches must model 6,2 62

appropriate behaviors in order to gain the respect of their employees and peers. Similarly, Perry (1997) points to the need for managers to change the way they behave in order to coach effectively. Indeed, Cleary (1995) suggests that one key to establishing an effective coaching relationship is through supportive and action-oriented behaviors. Coaching and modeling, then, share specific goals, in that both are a means of skill development and behavior modification, which in turn leads to that critical ingredient, commitment. As the empowerment process depends on all three factors (skill enhancement, behavior modification, commitment), the distinction between coaching and modeling may be blurred, although coaching tends to be a more formal process. Career path development and the link to coaching and modeling James (1995), found that many managers were having difficulty sustaining performance and managing careers in newer, flatter organizations, suggesting the need for coaching to help solve these problems, as one of the primary goals of coaching is to improve job performance and to prepare employees for higherlevel, or more complex tasks (Cleary, 1995). This position is supported by Turban’s (1994), research on the relationship between coaching and career success, as he found that coaching was related directly to career attainment and perceived career success. Similarly, Leykam (1997), found that employees involved in peer-level modeling programs showed an increase in job effectiveness, higher morale and a raise in career enhancing competencies. Some combination of these three inputs, then, appears to be essential to the empowerment process. Characteristics of relationships Further examination of the relationships among coaching, modeling and career path development has determined that three factors (dependency, formality, and values) can directly or indirectly affect these relationships. Employee dependency on managers and on organizational systems can lead to a breakdown in our model, as in some organizations, employee dependency, is cultivated (Payne, 1992). Here, “control devices” such as compensation, benefits and other perks are used to award those who please upper management. This dependency leads to the minimization of organizational productivity. In order to empower their employees, therefore, managers must give up traditional (formal) concepts of supremacy (McLagan, 1996). By using the strategic performance empowerment model, managers and employees utilize consultation, communication and influence – activities much more in tune with current participative management styles. Managers need to support rather than to control, so that employees can develop their own styles of leadership, which in turn, promote empowerment.

The values and the norms of both managers and employees can influence the coaching and the modeling relationships, which also can have an indirect effect on career path development. Thus, developing an appropriate personal value system is paramount to effective empowerment (Horsfall, 1996). During the coaching and the modeling processes, the values of both manager’s and employees will become evident (Phillips, 1995). With this factor in mind, models and coaches need to be sensitive as to the effect their values have on those of others. As suggested previously, modeling is as much value-based training as skills training. As skill enhancement does not bring about lasting change (Zenger, 1991; Wright and Geroy 1997), senior management needs to model the values of the behaviors desired within the organization to create a shared culture, a phenomenon considered one of five “people management policies” that bind people together, as defined by Crouch (1997). Finally, formality touches upon all three parts of the model. Career path management, for example, would appear to be the most formal, as this function often is a planned area of employee development. A culture based on informality, however, can interest the best and the brightest employees in any future opportunities within the firm. Coaching is performed on both the informal and the formal plane. Formal coaching sessions, regularly scheduled, with accompanying feedback sessions, are formal activities, but employees seem to grow and to learn best within informal structures. As well, extemporaneous coaching can, and should, often take place, as when managers respond to behavior that warrants immediate feedback, they are practicing informal coaching. Perhaps the most informal of all these variables is modeling. Informal observations are a method of behavior modeling (Zenger, 1991). There is research in this area, however, that argues against informality. Adkins (1994), suggests that informal modeling can be inconsistent, resulting in a waste of time and money. Further, she indicates that for modeling to be effective, the activity must take place in structured on-the-job training sessions, using carefully selected trainers. If our Strategic Performance Empowerment Model is to be effective, then, the right balance must be found between formality and informality. As every organization is different, it is impossible to develop rules that dictate “amounts” of one or the other. In general, however, successful managers in North America seem to be leaning toward informality as the basis for most employee/employer relationships. But against this backdrop, it must be remembered that formal systems must be in place to satisfy both legal requirements and the necessity to keep proper records, so that the human resource can be managed effectively (Wright, Mondy and Noe, 1996). Implications for practicing managers The Strategic Performance Empowerment Model outlines four premises:

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(1) there are three key variables: coaching, modeling and career path development, which must be maximized, (2) these three variables interact, (3) they must be utilized in combination to optimize employee empowerment, (4) anytime all three variables are not optimized, employees will not be fully empowered. The manager, then, faces a difficult task, as he/she must override traditional authority/power-based mindsets to develop a different paradigm, based on some combination of our three key variables. The addition of formality/informality variables to the mix, further complicates the manager’s job. Indeed, the creation of an empowered workforce may not only require the will to change at all levels of management, but a willingness to experiment and to accept some failures, until the formula is found that works in any given organization. There is no magic in this model, but the ingredients that lead to a more productive (e.g., empowered) workforce are isolated, so they can be recognized and managed in an appropriate manner.
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2.