Singing the praise of empowerment: Or paying the cost of chaos
Paper in proceedings, 2018
Empowerment is based on the belief that employees have the ability, and the desire, to shoulder more responsibility and perform better when given freedom. In an empowered organization, authority is given to employees with the intent to increase responsiveness to customers, improve decision-making power and to increase team motivation and skills. However, while most studies picture empowerment as the 'ideal state' and the place where all organizations strive to be, our research shows that fully empowered teams without strategic guidance suffer from a number of problems. Based on multi-case study research in eleven software-intensive companies, we see that companies need to allow for different levels of empowerment depending on what they aim to achieve, characteristics of the industry domain, the business model and other factors, and that strategic guidance is critical to set direction and for avoiding chaos. To help companies approach the optimal level of empowerment, we provide a framework consisting of two inter-connected models that help companies to, rather than staying in their current hierarchical structures, transition to a level of empowerment that maximizes business value and performance.