Participation and Empowerment in Organizations: Modeling, Effectiveness, and Applications


Abraham Sagie & Meni Koslowsky

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  • Advanced Topics in Organizational Behavior

    The Advanced Topics in Organizational Behavior series examines current and emerging issues in the field of organizational behavior. Written by researchers who are widely acknowledged subject area experts, the books provide an authoritative, up-to-date review of the conceptual, research, and practical implications of the major issues in organizational behavior.

    Editors: Julian Barling, Queen's University

    Kevin Kelloway, University of Guelph

    Editorial Board: Victor M. Catano, Saint Mary's University

    Cary L. Cooper, University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology

    Daniel G. Gallagher, James Madison University

    Jean Hartley, University of Warwick

    Denise Rousseau, Carnegie-Mellon University

    Paul Spector, University of South Florida

    Lois E. Tetrick, University of Houston


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    A tidal shift in business management over the past decade has been the movement toward participation and empowerment, involving employees at all levels of the organization in decision making. The notion of employee participation and empowerment has moved from being a novel experiment in a few nontraditional organizations to mainstream management policy. We cannot read a business magazine, the Wall Street Journal, or any book on management without stumbling across prescriptions for employee participation and empowerment. The traditional scientific management perspective of Frederick W. Taylor dominated the 20th century. However, as this century ends, a new approach has taken root and spread around the world.

    Despite the growth of participation and empowerment ideals, this perspective has often proven to be difficult to implement successfully. Effective use of the participation/empowerment approach to management has not matched its popularity.

    In this book, Abraham Sagie and Meni Koslowsky attempt to determine to what extent participation and empowerment are effective. They do this by examining how empowerment is actually demonstrated in companies and identifying the underlying dynamics. This attempt is necessary. Why?

    Empowerment, employee participation, employee involvement, participation in decision making, and many other terms are tossed around very casually. Yet what one means by these terms differs from person to person, from organization to organization, and from country to country. What do the employee ownership of United Airlines, the self-directed work teams at Johnsonville Sausage, and joint goal setting between a manager and subordinate have in common? All are considered to be employee participation and empowerment. However, the first operates at the organizational level, the second at the group level, and the last at the individual level. Each will have different antecedents and consequences. Sagie and Koslowsky trace these different meanings of employee participation and empowerment to clarify what the terms mean.

    A second goal of the authors is to examine why employee participation and empowerment are effective. This is a major contribution to the field, because most authors (myself included) have focused on describing participation/ empowerment, or assessing the impact of these attempts in organizations. Do participation and empowerment improve organizations because the people with the appropriate knowledge or at the appropriate level are making the decisions? Or is it effective because participation and empowerment inspire employees to work harder? Or is it some combination of both? What factors facilitate the positive impact of participation and empowerment? What factors inhibit the success of participation and empowerment?

    These are important questions whose answers may shape the future of participation and empowerment in the workplace. We need to understand the processes involved to become more successful in applying participation and empowerment.

    A third objective of Sagie and Koslowsky is to determine to what extent participation and empowerment are effective in improving decision making and productivity. I don't agree with their conclusions on this; I think that they are too conservative. However, this is still a matter for debate, both on philosophical merits and the empirical evidence. I will concede that they make some cogent and persuasive arguments. The reader will have to see if he or she is convinced.

    In addition to the objectives I've outlined above, the book makes other contributions. One contribution is that Sagie and Koslowsky see and define participation and empowerment more broadly than most other authors. They investigate participation in leadership, strategic versus tactical decision making, goal setting, management by objectives, and total quality management. Others have recognized that participation and empowerment are related to these other topics, but typically these topics are not included. Their inclusion here makes for a broader perspective. For example, most participation and empowerment theorists ignore topics such as small business units (SBUs) because they are seen as issues of organizational structure. We need to be more integrative in our conceptualizing, not creating theoretical silos like some functional organization.

    There are other reasons why I would recommend this book. I enjoyed the discussions of how participation is described and how it actually exists in various countries. This is especially interesting when the authors cover countries that are not typically included, such as Poland and India. The descriptions of delegation, the sociotechnical approach, and strategic versus tactical decisions were interesting, especially being integrated with participation and empowerment. Sagie and Koslowsky debate several interesting issues. For example, they argue that participation and empowerment cannot be justified simply on their effectiveness at improving work. I disagree, but find their arguments engaging. I also learned about the theory of loose-tight leadership.

    I think you'll appreciate this book. I enjoyed it, and I learned from the authors' perspective.

    John L.Cotton


    Executives often wonder how to survive in a business market that is becoming more and more global, more and more complicated, and more and more competitive. During hard times and frequent changes, innovative answers should be provided. Yet no single manager or even small group of management has all the answers. Coping with intense competition and economic difficulties reminds management that their human resources are their main important asset. If the entire capacity of the workforce is used to generate ideas and solve problems, and if they are really involved in the process of decision making, workers can be a vital aid to the organization during times of turmoil. No wonder, therefore, that an increasing number of companies are spending more money for implementing participatory programs such as management by objectives, total quality management, and self-managing work teams. Nevertheless, a careful examination shows that economic and organizational considerations are only part of the causes for implementing employee participation and empowerment. Legal, ideological, cultural, and political reasons are other reasons for the participatory efforts throughout the world.

    Consistent with the book's topic, it took a joint effort of two people with somewhat different orientations and emphases to produce this treatise. The first author's interests are more empirical, whereas the second author is more interested in modeling techniques; fortunately, both orientations are reflected in this book. As academicians who have taught, researched, and practiced participative techniques in organizational settings, both in America and Israel, we came to the conclusion that a comprehensive book in the field was lacking. Although several books in the field have appeared, much of the current knowledge exists in various sources scattered throughout the social science and business literature. In particular, the present work focuses on a relatively few number of basic issues including (a) how are participative decision making (PDM) and employee empowerment expressed in organizations around the globe? (b) what are the underlying dynamics of the process? and (c) to what extent are PDM and empowerment effective? Although the questions are basic ones, we found that after integrating and analyzing the relevant theories, facts, and applications, the answers are quite complex.

    The book has been organized so it deals with all the above-mentioned issues. It begins by describing the various phenomena related to PDM, continues by presenting an underlying model and relevant empirical research, and concludes with a general evaluation and by depicting possible future trends. Specifically, Chapter 1 traces the origins and diverse meanings of worker participation and empowerment throughout the world. It shows that except for the term participation, the modes of involving employees in decision making have very little in common.

    Chapter 2 aims at modeling the impact of PDM on diverse work outcomes, including job satisfaction, performance, and withdrawal behavior. It suggests two main paths, motivational and cognitive, each consisting of multiple mediators that transmit the PDM influence to work outcomes. Besides identifying which mediators help to facilitate this impact, other factors that are less productive, and interfere with the PDM effect, are also considered.

    Using empirical evidence, Chapter 3 assesses the effectiveness of PDM. As many studies have attempted to answer that very question for more than 60 years, quantitative reviews (especially meta-analytic studies) are particularly helpful in summarizing the research results. The chapter concentrates on group-oriented research with the following two chapters examining other streams of research.

    chapter 4 reviews the relevant theory and research in the leadership literature. An important issue addressed here is whether or not directive leader and employee participation are contradictory concepts.

    chapter 5 concentrates on goal setting and participation. Nevertheless, most of the findings are equally relevant to the wider area of participation in decision making. One of the key issues here is the differential PDM effects on performance and attitudes.

    Whereas most of the preceding chapters focused on participation, chapter 6 is devoted entirely to employee empowerment. It considers both theories and practices including delegation or self-managing work teams.

    chapter 7 examines the repertoire of participatory techniques commonly observed in organizations: job enrichment, job redesign, management by objectives, quality of working life, quality circles, and total quality management.

    Finally, based on the theoretical and empirical evidence suggested till now, chapter 8 attempts to integrate our approach and suggest intermediate answers to the book's main questions. Because the course of advancement in research is not always linear, and new evidence often belies the previous one, these answers could be referred to as “intermediate.” Yet they are the most comprehensive that we can provide at the moment.

    MeniKoslkowskyRamat-Gan, Israel
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    About the Authors

    Abraham (Rami) Sagie is Senior Lecturer of Organizational Behavior in the School of Business Administration, Bar-Ilan University, Israel. His main areas of interest are participative decision making, leadership, work values, and cross-cultural aspects of organizational behavior and withdrawal. On these topics, he has published about 70 scientific articles, book chapters, and conference proceedings. He has more than 10 years of experience working as manager in high-tech companies. Additionally, he has consulted with several Israeli organizations, in both the public and private sectors. Currently, he serves as the Secretary/Treasurer of the International Society for the Study of Work and Organizational Values and the Books Editor of the International Journal of Manpower.

    Meni Koslowsky is currently Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1972. His first areas of interest, at the University of Connecticut Health Center, were in the fields of health research and the development of psychometrically acceptable scales for use in a medical/dental evaluation program. After working for a few years outside of academia, as a research psychologist at JCPenney, Meni returned to a university setting when he moved to Israel with his family. Over the years, his interests have changed somewhat and now include organizational behavior research, as well as methodological issues. Meni has authored more than 100 articles, presentations, and chapters in books in traditional, substantive industrial/organizational areas such as organizational withdrawal, stress, and participative decision making. In addition, he has authored two previous books on commuting stress and modeling the stress process in organizations.

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