By Marie Kölle, Change Consultant @ Newmanity
The concept of empowerment has its origin in the United States in the late 90’s as a new form of motivating people to adopt a new lifestyle.
Empowerment, on the one hand, refers to all possibilities and tools through which people gain control over their lives and which support them implementing their goals.
Another definition of empowerment is the mobilization of the individual and his or hers strengths, in order for everyone within a community to have the ability think and act more competent, free and responsible. In many cases, empowerment is thus taught in seminars for executives.
The goal here is to promote the personal responsibility of employees in order to improve their performance and thus the productivity of a company.
The sociological theory behind empowerment is based on a new philosophy of life, a new view of humanity and one’s place in this world. Our society is morbidly busy figuring out what's not working and what's supposedly inadequate or even flawed in humans.
A gardener would be tempted by such a view to obsess about eradicating the last weeds and neglect to plant and care for the flowers altogether. Therefore, on the other hand, empowerment means liberating oneself from the attitude that we are flawed and that life is full of problems.
This requires a new attitude to life, which states that we are much stronger, bigger and more capable than we dare to think, that we have the power to change, to experience more freedom, responsibility and zest for life.
In order to practice the principle of free will, there are various approaches that can be trained in empowerment workshops:
The participants first create a list of what they should and should fulfill in their everyday lives. Afterwards, all "I should ..." are replaced by "I want ..." or "I do not want more ...". "I have to ..." is replaced by "I choose ..." or "I decide against it ..." This exercise is a step towards more self-determination and self-responsibility. The participants realize: "I decide for my life."
Participants introduce themselves on a fantasy journey, what would be "If I had only one more year to live ..." This exercise helps to discover what we really long for and what we postpone day after day if we had a second life in the trunk. It helps us to understand what is really important to us and to prioritize it.
In an organizational context empowerment is usually achieved if the company and its managers create an environment that allows for employees to be empowered. This means providing employees with more power, resources and opportunity to pursue their own ideas at work and feel supported by their environment to do so.
Yet, access to opportunity, information and resources have limited effect if employees do not have a sense of self-efficacy that makes them want to be empowered, for example through feeling supported by the employer.
In addition, it is helpful to strengthen the personality of employees. Since people in our culture are often plagued by self-esteem problems, lack in trust or are afraid to fail, it is important to develop employees in this regard on 3 different levels:
Emotional and social intelligence:
Describes the way we are treating our colleagues, customers and supervisors, in regards to justified criticism of one's own person, dealing with conflicts, openness in the communication of one's own needs and also the sensitivity to recognize the motives and desires of others.
Self-acceptance and self-esteem:
Having faith in one's own abilities and competences, as well as the meaningfulness of one's own life goals is of great importance in empowerment.
A higher level of responsibility also means making important decisions, as it can be practiced with Exercise 1.
In order to successfully carry out empowerment, all people participating in it must be convinced of the outcome. This can be done, for example, through coaching at the management level by leveraging a leadership philosophy that leaves room for employee development and empowerment. In the same process it highly important to review and, if necessary, adjust the company's vision and strategy.
For empowerment to function, managers need to provide an environment that allows for skills development.
The leadership has to act as the role model, formulating a common "mission" involving the employees, as well as constructive performance evaluation and potential development through personal and team-oriented communication.
Ultimately, every employee should have the opportunity to decide for themselves if and to what extent empowerment will be carried out. Because not every person has the same need to develop and to accept new challenges in a professional context.
However, if this motivation exists, it is indispensable for the company's success to recognize, promote and use the strengths and potential of its employees.