Empowerment: Blaming the worker less makes him less prone to errors

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

WHENEVER I have the chance to visit a factory or an office, you can always expect me to snoop around by reading the contents of its bulletin boards or whatever signs or notices are put up for the workers. Even without the help of any scientific opinion survey, you can readily understand the level of employee satisfaction there and whether management employs street-level thinking. Take this satirical post as a classic example: “In case of fire, flee the building with the same reckless abandon that occurs each day at quitting time.”

Why is this happening? W. Edwards Deming (1990-1993), the American genius who taught the Japanese about the dynamics of quality and productivity, can give you a clue on where to start: “80 percent of all problems are caused by Management, and only 20 percent can be traced to the Workers.” The answer is obvious as management has the ultimate choice on what and how to plan, lead, organize, and control its business operations.

The trouble is that in many instances, management has an attitude problem and is always blinded by its proximity to the problem – its self-image. It’s amazing to discover what a steaming mound of criticism management can get from the workers whose ideas, suggestions, and opinion are often ignored. In many training programs I’ve conducted for several corporate executives of business organizations, I can hear many of them feverishly bring up the dark side of the workers without blaming themselves.

“People won’t take their jobs seriously despite the fact that we pay them good money.”


Whenever I hear this comment from managers who often shift the blame to the workers, I would get the notion that I was addressing the annual conference of death row clergymen. For many, it may seem that there are more than a thousand reasons not to write about, read about, or even think about the subject of employee morale and motivation.

After all, you can readily read the bubble thoughts on top of their heads that go something like this: “If the employees are interested to work for us, then why can’t they justify their existence to this organization?”

My answer to that is a two-pronged question: “What is your employee turnover rate? And why can’t you reduce it to a single digit, which is reasonable by any industry standard?”

I’ve been an employee champion all my life, despite my more than 30 years of management work experience as top HR head of various organizations. And thankfully, my ideas on how to motivate people were accepted by top management. My former bosses are the living proof that the real, positive, and valuable practice on how to motivate employees is to foster strategic empowerment approaches.

Empowerment is best done by allowing, or to some extent requiring, all workers to share in management problem-solving and decision-making processes. This can be best done by asking people to submit an “X” number of ideas a month and making it part of their key result areas. The generic programs are found in suggestion schemes, labor-management consultation, quality circles, and self-directed teams.

Whatever name you call it and as long as you make it easy for the workers to come up with ideas (except for the passive, wooden suggestion boxes), then surely it will pass the standards of empowerment.

With the prevailing fierce competition for great talent and the difficulties in retaining them for the long-term, the cheapest and practical approach is to create a situation where all workers are given the chance to participate in what academics call “industrial democracy” that may include sing-along contests, birthday clubs, bowling tournaments, dress-up Mondays, field trips, and volunteer work for typhoon victims, among other things.

Sometimes, it may be difficult to measure the return on investment, but believe me, even small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) will attest that intellectual fun and laughter in many company-organized activities, even those done with a minimal budget, can do the trick in motivating and retaining the best and the brightest workers.

Managers who lead and live with a genuine empowerment mindset laced with fun and laughter along the way benefit from higher levels of engagement and overall success with all types of employees. It’s not only about having fun at work, but more than anything, it attracts people to your organization, and repels the wrong ones, including management people who appear like Uncle Scrooge.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.

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