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Empowering Employeesthe Saturn Way

September 1, 1995
Related Topics: Motivating Employees, Featured Article
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Ideally, job enrichment and employee empowerment should always go hand in hand. Enrichment means building challenge and achievement into workers' jobs by changing job content, letting them order and inspect their own goods, schedule their own day and so forth. Empowerment, as an increasing number of HR professionals are defining the term, means authorizing and enabling workers to do their jobs. Enriching jobs should thus give employees more challenging jobs to do, while empowering employees should give them the skills, authority and discretion needed to actually perform the enriched jobs. Enriching and empowering jobs means doing three things:

  1. Changing the content of jobs—letting employees plan their own work—control the scrap and obtain the supplies, for instance.
  2. Giving employees the training, tools and support they need to do their new jobs.
  3. Insisting that all managers follow through by actually letting the workers use their new, broader authority to work.

Saturn provides a good example of the three enrich-and-empower components in action. At Saturn, all production work is accomplished by work teams, and the work assignments of all teams are highly enriched. This is evident from the 30 work-unit functions for which all team members are responsible. For instance, work-unit functions require that each Saturn team will:

  • Make its own job assignments
  • Plan its own work
  • Design its own jobs
  • Perform any maintenance necessary on its own equipment
  • Control its own material and inventory needs
  • Make selection decisions of new members into the work unit.

Because "empowerment" without "ability" doesn't work, Saturn teams and their members get the skills and tools necessary to do their jobs. In fact, all new team members get 320 hours of training their first year and at least 92 hours of training thereafter. And at Saturn, training doesn't only mean how to screw in bolts or position doors. Instead, it means broadening the employees and developing new skills, with the aim of making each person all he or she can be.

Finally, Saturn follows through with supervisory action—the company makes sure its managers actually let their people do their jobs. As one employee says, "You don't have anyone here who is a supervisor. We're supervised by ourselves. We become responsible to the people we work with every day. What I do affects my people. In other firms you're treated like children; here we're treated like adults."

SOURCE: Excerpted from "Winning Commitment: How to Build and Keep a Competitive Workforce," c1993 by Gary Dessler. Published by McGraw-Hill Inc.

Personnel Journal, September 1995, Vol. 74, No. 9, p. 32.

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