When Staff Don’t Want To Be Empowered

OK, you’ve made all your plans and you’re convinced that your staff will be receptive to your new ideas.

So you decide to delegate some responsibility to your team, knowing that this level of empowerment will be grasped by all of them, as they are all striving for more responsibility and challenge.

Besides, we are all in this together, and that means they’ll want to share the burden and help make the department successful, yes?

Well, yes and no.

One common mistake that managers make in this area is to assume that all that it will take to empower a team member is to simply delegate work and assume they have the motivation and commitment to carry it out. It may not be that simple.

We’ve discussed before that taking people out of their comfort zone can cause many people a lot of stress. Empowering some team members may be fearful for them. We get used to things as they are and so resist change. Some of us like the predictability of everyday work, and they may prefer it when you, the boss, make all the decisions.

So what can you do to encourage people to take on more responsibility and become more empowered, when they may have some resistance to it?

First, make sure you have a clear understanding of what is meant by empowerment, and the responsibilities, authority, limits and expectations you have regarding the people who will be participating.

Ensure everyone has a clear picture of what you’re trying to achieve, what your priorities and values are for the team. If the team isn’t clear, expect hesitancy and fear.

Decide on how you will communicate the message of empowerment. Personally? As a team? A meeting? Email? Make sure the methodology fits in with what you’re trying to achieve. In this case, the journey may be more important than the destination

How will people actually make decisions when they have the power to do so? It may be better to formalise the process so everyone knows what’s going on.

By doing all the above, you are more likely to see consistency of results. If the team know what they are doing and why they are doing it, you have more reasons for participation. Let people take some calculated risks, but let them know if they are going in the right direction. You may find some of the team’s decision-makers come out of the woodwork and show their natural leadership abilities.

All empowerment should be an opportunity for individuals to grow and develop in their abilities and skills. Let them have the right tools to communicate effectively, and you’ll see the potential in many team members

Give the individuals who might be shying away from the empowerment you are offering some kind of stability and support. And give it time. You may have the experience of problem-solving and decision-making, communication skills and abilities honed over many years. Remember that your team members may not have your abilities. So be patient and recognise how your team communicate, so you can be at their level and on their wavelength.

By doing all this, you reduce the chances of failure in empowering others and give yourself more opportunities to share the workload while developing their skills.

Thanks again



Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   

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Updated on: 6 September, 2010

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