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Firm’s culture affects employee empowerment

September 18, 2012

Employees who feel disgruntled? Tasks that they could handle being passed up to the manager? This could be a case of lack of employee empowerment. Find out from Peggy Rosser how empowering your employees can lead to greater customer satisfaction…

SAN ANGELO, Texas — I returned to my car from the convenience store and twisted the top off my bottle of cold soda. I didn’t hear the familiar click, click of the band separating from the cap. Convinced that it had already been opened, I went back inside and shared my concerns with the cashier.

He simply said for me to leave that one with him and to go get a new one — no questions and no need for a receipt. I was impressed how the cashier handled the situation and curious about his sense of freedom to make that decision. With a little research, I learned what happened here could be classified as employee empowerment.

Employee empowerment is a powerful concept that, when properly utilized, can have lasting benefits far beyond expectations. Susan M. Heathfield defines empowerment in her Human Resource Guide, as “the process of enabling an individual to think, behave, take action, and control work and decision making in autonomous ways.”

As a business owner, don’t think employee empowerment is something you just hand to your employees at a staff meeting. Heathfield continues, “You don’t want your employees thinking of it as something that one individual does for another. This is one of the problems organizations have experienced with the concept of empowerment. People think that someone, unusually the manager, has to bestow empowerment on the people who report to him.”

In this situation, employees are waiting to be empowered and are not making decisions on their own, not feeling empowered and blaming the manager for their unhappiness.

Empowerment happens when the culture of the company enables the employees to take control of their work, decision making and professional development.

Heathfield explains, “The organization has the responsibility to create a work environment which helps foster the ability and desire of employees to act in empowered ways. The work organization has the responsibility to remove barriers that limit the ability of staff to act in empowered ways.” She continues, “Think of empowerment, instead, as the process of an individual enabling himself to take action and control work and decision making in autonomous ways. Empowerment comes from the individual.”

Cornerstone on views the benefits of creating an empowerment enterprise as, “The Empowered Enterprise positions employees at the center of your strategy. Empowering your enterprise means engaging workers, and their individual talents, to drive better performance and productivity that create bottom line results. Building an Empowered Enterprise benefits every part of your business, from lowered employee turnover, to increased revenue, to higher customer satisfaction.”

Heathfield offers examples of an empowered employee and a company’s management style to foster employee empowerment. “Mary took charge of her career by fueling her sense of empowerment when she developed a career path plan, met with her manager to ask for her assistance to achieve it, and set goals for its accomplishment in her performance development.”

The second example involves management style. “The company’s management style involved sharing the goals, sharing each employee’s expectations and framework with the employee and then, getting out of the way while employees were empowered to set goals, accomplish their objectives, and determine how to do their jobs.”

I would venture to guess that the cashier at the convenience store where I purchased my bottled soda and subsequently replaced it with a different bottle is pleased that he was able to provide good customer service. His boss probably didn’t say, “I empower you to ….” It was the climate of the company which enabled this cashier to make the decision on his own. A relatively small action, but the ripple-through effect of his decision is seen here, in this business article and resulting in it being read by you.

Remember, the ASU Small Business Development Center is here to assist you with all aspects of your business. Just give us a call.

“Business Tips” was written by Peggy Rosser, Rural Business Development Specialist and Certified Business Adviser IV of Angelo State University’s Small Business Development Center. Contact her at

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