Performance Management Blog

Empowerment, disempowerment, un-empowerment, and Dis-UN-empowerment

I’ve been playing with the notion of empowerment for a long time. Heck, my first speech on this concept at an international conference was in 1995 or so… People talk about empowering others, like they could make the choice and pull people around on strings or something. Well, it just isn’t that easy.

Pulling the strings will not empower someone

Pulling the strings to empower someone doesn’t work.

So, I learned how to do a simple thing with a really funny name that works pretty well to anchor the concept. Let me explain…

Many if not most organizations have talked about “empowerment” as a motivator. They embed the word into their mission statements. They talk as if they can actually accomplish this and implement improvement and change simply by “empowering our people.” And, they somehow expect their managers to act in some way to, “go out and empower your people,” as if that is somehow possible and within their existing skillsets. Heck, they often even add a measure of some kind to this into their compensation packages / appraisal evaluation systems.

Why not simply ask them to fly to the moon?

Sorry, but most people are UN-empowered. Statistics show that maybe 30% of employees are actually engaged, defined as being actively and emotionally involved with their work and the company. (Update: 2022 Gallup data found that 17% if US workers are actively-disengaged so how empowered does one think these people really are!) It is obvious that the situation should be emproved (intentional spelling error).

(I posted up a solid article on ideas for engaging the unengaged here)

The good thing is that it is EASY to talk about empowering others. But go ahead– EMPOWER ME TO DO SOMETHING. ANYTHING. You just cannot do it. It is not your choice and you have no influence on me. One person cannot empower another. (Heck, I did have two teenagers years ago — I was going to say “different teenagers” but I realize that the phrase is redundant).

So, leaping toward the actionable and intuitively non-obvious reality, I proposed that one of the roles of any manager — and one of the things that they can do and that has a wide variety of positive impacts on people and performance — is to do something I call:

Dis-Un-Empowerment

If so many are un-empowered, what actions of a manager might serve to remove or modify that situation so as to remove those things that people think or choose to allow to get in the way of them acting empowered?

My approach is to focus on Roadblock Management. Identify the different kinds of roadblocks so as to enable people to use APPROPRIATE strategies to deal with them to remove them from affecting performance. THAT generates empowerment and engagement.

You can find a pretty simple model of my approach to Managing Roadblocks here:
https://performancemanagementcompany.com/2022/05/09/manage-workplace-roadblocks-prevent-employees-from-quitting-before-quitting/

Have FUN out there, dis-un-engaging people and feeling the benefits of a more involved and engaged workplace. Lead out from a better place,

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools.
Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant who is trying to retire!! He now lives in Cuenca, Ecuador.

You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Learn more about Scott at his LinkedIn site.


Here is a 2-minute overview of the virtual team building game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE6gDtZymwk

The new, virtual online version of the team building game for remote teambuilding

Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant, earning CPT and CPF credentials. -- You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com and a detailed profile is here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scottsimmerman/ -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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