Power to the people

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Empowerment is one of the most over-used terms in the corporate lexicon, writes Roger Trapp. Nevertheless, at a time when many companies are at least starting to talk about the human dimension after years of downsizing and cost-cutting, the delegation of responsibility does have a role to play.

The consultancy firm Smythe Dorward Lambert, which is publishing a report called Empowerment - any life left? through its management education practice, does not claim it is a panacea. But it does see it as providing significant benefits in such areas as customer service, innovation and employee motivation - all of which can increase adaptability and provide a framework for leaner organisations.

The importance that the firm places on creating the right framework is demonstrated by the experience of the UK arm of Microsoft, one of its clients.

According to David Svendsen, managing director of Microsoft, the company originally tried to roll out empowerment about three and a half years ago in much the same way as it approached the launch of Windows 95.

But it quickly realised that was a mistake. Not enough people knew what it was about and what they were supposed to do, says Mr Svendsen.

When the company thought through the implementation process, managers realised that they had to set out clearly what empowerment was all about in their organisation. As a result there were, for example, various statements describing what an empowered manager was.

The consequence, claims Mr Svendsen, was a much more successful initiative that is being watched by other Microsoft units around the world.