Delegation and empowerment are essential skills for effective managers. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there are several areas of difference between them. Delegation is a straightforward means of assigning tasks to your employees. Empowerment seeks to give an employee more authority with the aim of developing employee commitment, enthusiasm and expertise, while encouraging innovation that will benefit the organization over time. Empowerment necessarily requires some level of delegation, but not all instances of delegation will produce an empowered employee.
For example, a manager tasked with a recurring assignment, such as organizing and presenting a monthly meeting for department heads, might reasonably want an employee to take on some portions of that task. How a delegating manager versus an empowering manager would handle this illustrates the similarities and differences between the two approaches.
Both managers will likely delegate routine items such as composing and distributing the meeting agenda, overseeing room set-up and recording attendance. When making the initial assignment, both managers need to meet with the employee beforehand to ensure understanding of the work required and any constraints, such as time frame and budget. However, the empowering manager will likely seek the employee’s input on how the new assignment dovetails with existing responsibilities. The empowering manager will also let the employee know that greater involvement over time will be welcomed. For example, the employee may become authorized to contribute items to the agenda and schedule guest speakers, rather than simply preparing an agenda from items identified by the manager. The goal is to empower the employee to make a greater contribution rather than simply performing rote tasks.
It’s essential that any employee taking on new responsibilities have the knowledge, skills and resources to carry out the tasks. When training the employee, both types of managers will likely begin by showing the employee the steps currently taken to produce the monthly meetings. For the delegating manager, this may be sufficient, especially if keeping to the status quo is all the company requires. The empowering manager, on the other hand, might arrange for more extensive training for the employee, such as taking continuing education classes or attending conferences in event management and related fields. The employee would be expected to share and recommend ideas for improving the monthly meetings based on the new knowledge gained through this advanced training. Similarly, with resources, the delegating manager may require that all requests for additional resources be submitted for approval before the items are acquired. An empowering manager, however, might authorize the employee in advance to directly purchase routine supplies and other resources that fall under a maximum dollar amount.
Initially, both types of managers may closely monitor the employee’s work on the assigned tasks. For example, the employee may be required to get the manager’s approval on the meeting agenda before it is printed. The managers might also conduct reviews of the employee’s work and the meeting results after each monthly meeting.
The delegating manager might continue with this level of monitoring as long as the employee is assigned to the task. However, the empowering manager would back off from this oversight once the employee shows greater competence and increased expertise with the project. Pre-approval of the agenda could be viewed as the employee keeping the manager informed rather than as a check on the employee’s performance. The post-meeting reviews would take place at increasingly greater intervals, going from monthly to quarterly or longer. When areas that need improvement are identified, the delegating manager might simply direct the employee on new procedures to follow, while the empowering manager will be more likely to involve the employee in developing an action plan to correct the deficiencies.