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Labor Management

Labor Management: Employee Empowerment and Team Work

It takes skilled labor and teamwork to organize the efficient digging of balled and burlap nursery stock.
It takes skilled labor and teamwork to organize the efficient digging of balled and burlap nursery stock.

An effective organization is one that has provided employees the responsibility and authority to make decisions for nearly all aspects of production and marketing. Employees that have been empowered generally have better motivation and self-esteem, an increase a sense of ownership in the business, and tend to get along better with their colleagues (1). Empowerment comes from managerial delegation. In a step-wise progression managers delegate to supervisors, who in turn delegate to workers. In effect, extending responsibilities to others greatly expands a companies’ productivity well beyond the capacity of a single business owner or manager (2). In any sizable business there is simply too much work for one person to handle. By assigning tasks to employees, managers are allowing their staff to grow on their own, with the over-all goal of the improving the business standing.

Advantages of Delegation

A manager that delegates responsibility will find that workers will be eager to create their own goals. Employees will seek out ways to obtain advanced training, and possibly further education. They will tend to build a greater interest in their work, or will offer ways to make it even better. Absenteeism rates generally decline, as well as conflicts with administration and supervisors.

In a retail business employee empowerment is one of the best sources of customer satisfaction. When customers receive immediate satisfaction, and don’t feel as if every decision has to be checked with a supervisor, they will be more inclined to come back for more business. Rather than hear what can’t be done, customers will be pleased to find what can be done on the spot. In most cases customers will be happy to settle an issue quickly even it means they are not rewarded 100% financially.

Problems with Delegation

When conflicts arise over delegation it’s generally due to supervisors and employees not understanding their separate roles and responsibilities (3). Managers may not feel comfortable with the new roles that their workers assume and feel as if they have lost a certain degree of recognition. Other supervisors fear that they won’t achieve the results that they had hoped for, and would rather simply do the task themselves. There are going to be employees that simply don’t need extra decision making responsibilities, or don’t personally feel comfortable with empowerment. If a task is quite difficult or controversial an employee may not feel adequately trained to assume the new tasks. With complex jobs there simply may not be sufficient time to train in an employee. In a company that is down-sizing, or heading towards a merger or acquisition, employee empowerment can either over-whelming or tenuous in the long term. To delegate is to assume a certain level of trust in the person who will take on the new task. Both parties must be able to handle the responsibility that goes with empowerment.

Delegation Time-line

For all but the most basic tasks it’s often easier for managers to ease workers into handling more responsibility. By succeeding at ever more challenging tasks an employer can develop more trust in a worker. Incremental steps can avoid the significant disappointment by both managers and their workers when early attempts at transferring responsibility don’t proceed as expected.

A manager should start the delegation process with a carefully thought out plan as to which worker will assume the new responsibilities, form a mental snapshot of the desirable outcomes, and come up with a set of procedures for handling mistakes. Explaining new tasks for the selected employee should be done carefully and patiently. After asking for feed-back, a manager may have to slightly alter the original plans. The more buy-in on the part of the workers the better the final outcomes. Even though a manager will have a certain expectation of the final result, the path the employee takes to get there should be somewhat flexible. Both parties should work in a quiet space where there are not distractions from other workers or customers. It may be necessary to formally write down the tasks so that both parties can review them at a latter date.

Some companies hold monthly staff meetings to keep employees informed of production quotas and sales. If combined with free breakfasts more employees will be encouraged to attend!

Evolution of Management Style

During the transition stage where responsibility is gradually moved into the hands of the employee, a manager will need to maintain a high level of respect and encouragement for the changes being implemented. Good managers are now being called coaches, advisors, or even facilitators (4). This new form of administration challenges the hierarchical forms of leadership where the final authority was at the top of the tower watching over workers below. Managers have the power and capacity to influence the behavior of their employees. Responsibilities must be shared through trust, assurance, motivation and support. Work-related decisions and full control of the work is being pushed down towards the lowest operating levels of most businesses.

The basics of employee empowerment have to start at the top. Managers can’t expect employees to begin solving problems and making improvements unless they see that the executive group will support change from below. Workers may request travel of education funding to attend conferences and specialized training. If managers don’t provide the employee the time away from the day-to-day job to attend these events, delegation probably won’t proceed smoothly. After a gaining a new skill, a manger should be willing to allow the employee to assume the responsibility of the new tasks or procedures, largely with-out direct supervision from the administration.

Listening to Workers

Another principle of employee empowerment that strongly affects communication channels within a company is the “twenty foot rule.” This rule states (5) that the best people to solve a problem are those people who work within twenty feet of the issue. Many conflicts in organizations result from vague language or expectations. When managers describe specific behavior, employees will be better able to understand problems and develop ways to improve them. Conflicts between administrators and workers need to be taken care of quickly.

If an employee does is not allowed sufficient latitude in determining the course of events, or if the manager steps in too frequently, the delegation process will proceed slowly or not at all.

Recognize Success

Managers that show their appreciation for performance enhancement of their workers are often held in high esteem. Garden center managers can reward their best sales staff with paid travel trips to national trade shows. Field workers can be offered the chance to attend regional educational trade conferences. In the Pacific Northwest wholesale nursery managers will often reward their best Spanish workers buy sending them to the annually held Farwest Show Seminars (6) in August in Portland, OR. At this large trade show there are seminars held in Spanish on all phases integrated pest management.

Upon completion of the assigned task, both parties should reflect back on the transfer of responsibility. If the delegation proceeded smoothly, the employee will generally have a much keener interest in taking on new tasks. Most employees, if given the right opportunity, like to expand their skills. A renewed sense of autonomy, and self-worth, should keep a employee for many years to come.

Team Empowerment

Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, and working together is success. – Henry Ford

When an organization delegates authority from the bottom up, to groups or teams of workers, the process of decentralization will result in the entire organization working better. A group of individuals working together can accomplish more than the sum total of individual workers. This synergy is what drives group work in an organization. The range of skills provided by a group of workers and the inherent self-monitoring which each group performs makes it a reasonably safe recipient for delegated empowerment (7).

Just as there a multitude of different type of nurserymen, so are there different types of teams (8). A team can have fixed positions, such as case with a baseball team. Each member of this type of team has well defined tasks, which as a rule don’t over-lap with other members of the team. While a wholesale nursery may have sales team, a greenhouse team, and a container team, it’s possible that team members don’t know or interact with one another.

Conversely, a football team generally works cohesively in order to win the game. Team members are beholden to the word of the coach or the team captain. Solo performance is only called for when a game win is required. In retail garden center the supervisor of the floral department may be considered a team captain.

Thirdly, in a game of doubles tennis the teams are very small, and each member covers one another. Team members have considerable flexibility in how they perform their job, and individual members contribute, rather than perform. In a landscape architecture business, a small staff of associates, each with individual types of creativity, can essentially perform a company design standard of outdoor architecture.

While there is no set standard for designing teams, the combined effect of working together on a common goal far outweigh the effectiveness of individuals working alone.

Successful delegation can be thought of as the ultimate win-win scenario. Managers gain from the tremendous expertise of their workers, and employees take home the self satisfaction of implementing their own ideas towards an issue that results in successful fruition.


  1. Empowerment and delegation. 2001. Gregorio Billikopf Encina, University of California. In: Labor Management in Agriculture Cultivating Personnel Productivity, 2nd Edition.
  2. Delegation: More than just propping up your feet. 1995. Steven Stovall. Nursery Retailer, July-August 1995.
  3. Supervising Agricultural Work. 2002. Howard Rosenburg, University of California at Berkeley. In: Ag Help Wanted: Guidelines for Managing Agricultural Labor.
  4. Employee empowerment starts at the top. 1991. Joan Lloyd at Work.
  5. Improving employee empowerment. 1996. Leslie Hildula, 1996. The CPA Journal.
  6. Farwest Show Seminars. 2004. Oregon Association of Nurseries, Wilsonville, OR.
  7. Groups that Work. Gerard Blair. Senior lecturer in the Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Edinburgh.
  8. There’s More Than One Kind of Team. 1996. Peter F. Drucker, from: The Wall Street Journal. Course reading for a class in Business Administration at Northeastern University in Boston, MA

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