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Overcoming the Disempowerment of HR


Leave a comment on today’s post and become eligible for one of twenty-five copies of, “Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest,” by Peter Block.


Human Resource Departments that are dedicated to serving upper management and controlling front-line employees are a sad waste of human resources.

Peter Block complains,

“We have separated the management of the work from the doing of the work.” (Stewardship)

HR departments have the opportunity to create empowered organizational culture, but instead, spend much of their time focused on compliance and consistency.

HR could empower rather than disempower.


Any person or group that must seek and/or gain the approval of another is not empowered.

Block says HR may present a kinder, gentler face to employees, but in the end, HR has approval-granting power.

The one who grants approval has the power.

Human Resources could be more than compliance and enforcement. They could empower.


In empowered organizations those closest to the work have most of the power, not staff or management. Staff and management serve, rather than control, people who touch the real work.

HR builds empowered cultures by training those closest to the work to do many of the functions currently done by HR.

To empower is to transfer skills and functions to another.

Block writes, “HR’s task, then, is to provide the tools and skills and process for people close to the work to develop their own personnel practices and procedures.”

Other expressions of empowerment:

Empowered employees hire their co-workers. HR departments that empower, equip work-teams with the skills to hire and, eventually, stop signing off on work-team decisions.

Empowered employees review. Performance reviews are placed in the control of employees not management.

Empowered employees participate in compensation practices. Traditionally, we figure out how much we can pay top people and how little we can pay front-line people. In an empowered organization, everyone has a voice in compensation.

What HR functions could be transferred to those closest to the work? What must be retained?

Block’s book, “Stewardship” challenges the status quo like no other book I’ve read. I highly recommend it. Leave a comment on today’s post for a chance to win one of twenty-five complimentary copies.

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