The University Record, May 20, 2002

HRAA day encourages empowerment

By Theresa Maddix

Thomas Knox of the Media Union (from left) and Wanda Monroe of University Library listen to Joe Przybylski of ITD describing the inner workings of a Telcom Closet at the ITCom fair. The fair ran May 8–9 to coincide with HRAA’s ‘Empowering the Workforce.’ (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)
Author and Business Prof. Gretchen Spreitzer studies empowerment—not the buzzword, but the actual experience. She says that workers who are empowered feel more energized, find their work more interesting and perform better. But, Spreitzer says workers cannot attain empowerment success without four key factors in their work environment: a sense of meaning, impact, self-determination and competence.

Spreitzer shared her professional insights into how to be empowered for the Human Resources and Affirmative Action “Empowering the Workforce” day May 9.

She says workers with a sense of meaning are described as putting their “heart and soul” into their jobs. Spreitzer feels all jobs can have meaning and cites the example of NASA after President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. was going to place a man on the moon. Any employee in NASA who was asked to define his or her job, said “We’re working to put a man on the moon.”

To build personal empowerment in this area, Spreitzer suggests taking time to reflect on “what part of your job is meaningful.” Ways to focus might be to write an obituary or article on what your legacy is, or to define a personal mission statement.

Spreitzer defines a sense of impact as working in an organization that listens to its workers. People with this sense have “input into or influence over strategic, administrative and operating decisions.” And, she says, these decisions are not over trivial matters such as what brand of toilet paper to purchase.

Building impact means “thinking outside the box” and “trusting your intuition,” Spreitzer says. Empowerment rookies could focus on finding ways to work in areas where they are truly masterful rather than just doing a job as it is normally done.

Spreitzer says self-determination involves “having the power to make decisions relative to one’s job,” not being micro-managed. She encouraged those present to “ask forgiveness rather than seeking permission.”

Practical tips for improving self-determination are “starting small” and “focusing on small wins. JDI but DBS,” Spreitzer says, meaning “Just do it,” but “Don’t be stupid.” Try to get others, especially your boss, onboard.

People with a sense of competence have a “belief in their capacity to grow and learn to meet new challenges,” Spreitzer says. They also have the ability to do their job well.

Employees can improve in this area by “exploring training and development opportunities” and by asking, “What would be the next step for me?”

“All four dimensions are important,” Spreitzer says. “If even one is missing, a person will not feel empowered.”

Spreitzer is the co-author of “The Leader’s Change Handbook: An Essential Guide to Setting Direction and Taking Action,” of “The Future of Leadership: Speaking to the Next Generation” and “A Company of Leaders: Five Disciplines for Unleashing the Power in Your Workforce.”

As part of its continuing mission to make the University an employer of choice, Human Resources and Affirmative Action presented the daylong event to celebrate staff, offer tips on empowerment and display exhibits on career-related counseling, health care and management and other campus services.