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Barriers to Empowerment

If you’re serious about making the organization change-ready, you’ll have to eliminate or lower these barriers.


Drive out Fear The quality methodology developed by W. Ed wards Deming included fourteen points for effective management. One of those points urged managers to drive fear out of the workplace. An organizational culture dominated by fear is incapable of serious change. Fear encourages everyone to avoid risks, hunker down, and keep their mouths Shut—even to conceal disappointing results. Consider this example, which demonstrates how an atmosphere of fear hides the truth and keeps people from coming to grips with needed change.


Employees who are empowered are essential for successful organizational Change. Here are some tips to empower the people who work for you:

• Encourage innovative thinking.

• Demonstrate respect for employees—and do it regularly.

• Delegate, and don’t micromanage.

• Extend trust. If you are dissatisfied with the result, identify the cause and work on it.

• Be flexible, and demonstrate that flexibility to others.

• Release control of a project to others at the first opportunity.

• Encourage risk-taking and be tolerant of failures.

• Spread decision-making authority around.

Tips for Empowering People

Back in the early 1980s, before General Motors’s leadership faced up to its quality problems, a group of managers and engineers conducted a study to determine what had gone wrong with the company’s X-car and J-car projects, which were plagued with quality problems in their early production years.


As described by Gregory Watson in his book Strategic Benchmarking:

Obviously, change cannot happen in an environment gripped with fear.  For example, people in despotic nations know that the best way to survive is to shut up, follow orders, and cover up mistakes when necessary. But before long, these countries find themselves outpaced by their more open rivals. Companies are no different. Employees at all levels must feel free to challenge the status quo, Identify problems, and suggest solutions—even when their views conflict with those of the leadership. They must also feel free to try new Things without fear of retribution if they fail.


The organization has effective and respected leaders.Leaders who lack those qualities cannot get people to change. If you don’t have the right kinds of leaders, get them.

People in the organization are personally motivated to change.They are sufficiently dissatisfied with the status quo that they are willing to make the effort and accept the risks involved with doing something new. Even in the absence of a crisis, good managers can get people motivated to change.

The organization has a nonhierarchical structure.Hierarchy may present no impediment to a strictly economically driven change program, but it is a barrier to all others. Managers need to either reduce the hierarchy or work around it by giving people collaborative work assignments.


By: W. Ed wards Deming

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