Is employee empowerment just another management buzzword or empty slogan ? This does not seem so. A simple definition of this concept is “handing the power of decision and action to employees and giving them more authority and responsibility to achieve their job and thus customer satisfaction”. There is a growing recognition that the success of any organisation (including libraries) lies more in its intellectual and systems capabilities rather than its physical assets [Jarrar & Zairi, 2002]. Human capital is being more and more considered as a priceless asset. Several case studies report the successful implementation of empowerment of frontline employees in the service industry. Indeed, there are lessons to be drawn for circulation and reference services staff in libraries of all types.
The old traditional hierarchical management style is process-driven. lt is based on the assumption that top management knows what is best. It fosters strict adherence to rules, unquestionable obedience and support to senior staff, leaves no autonomy in decision-making for employees, measures people’s worth according to their rank and degree of submission to the boss and places little value on people in organisations. This command and control approach is totally outdated and unadaptable for coping with the current challenges facing modern complex organisations. Employee empowerment is seen as one of the critical factors for the success for any type of organisation.
Some of the benefits of empowerment include: higher staff morale, greater job satisfaction and enhanced productivity, willingness to take responsibility for service encounter, quicker response to customer needs and changes in tastes, less absenteeism and labour turnover, and reduced customer complaints because happy employees make happy customers. Moreover, it fosters a culture of openness and releases the energy and potential capabilities of staff. In empowered organisations, employees are no longer considered as an expenditure item but an asset to be reckoned with. Thus, management has a huge responsibility to create a working environment in which the talents of its people are unleashed and broadened.
How to Empower ?
Empowerment can take several forms, namely: participation in decision-making and problem solving; involvement in suggestions schemes, and team briefings to generate ideas and feedback so as to benefit from employees’ experience; enlist the commitment of the personnel to the organisation’s goals by encouraging them to take more responsibility for their performance and finally, by de-layering or reducing the number of tiers or ‘layers’ in the management structures thus making the organisation ‘flatter’ or closer to its customers.
Pre-conditions for the successful implementation of employee empowerment include, a supportive management style, willingness on the part of superiors to delegate some of their decision-making power and other responsibilities to subordinates, transparency or the free flow of information, the progressive integration of empowerment into an organisation’s culture, training to enable staff to exercise increased authority and responsibility, a performance-related reward system, and a customer-oriented culture or commitment to service quality.
In short, empowerment is about valuing the individual within the organisation, rather than the organisation, per se. It implies a radical change in the mindset of top management, which unfortunately many are incapable of.