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Denise Robitaille


Empowerment Without Backup

Knowledge and guidance

Published: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - 22:00


mpowering people is a cool idea. Giving individuals authority and responsibility has many benefits. It fosters accountability and communicates confidence. It avails people the opportunity to contribute in a manner that allows their voices to be heard. They experience the self-satisfaction of knowing that what they say and do matters, that they can make a difference in their organization.

All of this cultivates a culture that manifests active involvement and genuine ownership. Well implemented, the appropriate delegation of responsibility can also increase efficiency by eliminating bottlenecks that may arise when over-extended managers and supervisors are tied-up in meetings, busy putting out fires or off-site. When they’re gone, document changes can’t be signed off; in-process defects can’t be approved for rework, and jobs can’t be rerouted to underutilized work centers. Designating qualified individuals to make decisions is a smart move.

Like all good ideas, well-intended empowerment initiatives can fizzle into chaos unless they’re accompanied by guidelines and training.

We grant individuals authority to get things done, but fail to adequately define the criteria and rules they need to succeed. They don’t have the necessary tools to make informed decisions. The consequence is that they end up being blamed for errors rather than recognized for successful implementations.

While there are multiple activities that can benefit from the delegation of authority, there are two processes within an organization that don’t get enough broad visibility beyond the quality sphere. Control of nonconforming material and initiating corrective action are features of a quality management system (QMS) that are too closely associated with the quality department—an isolation that creates a detriment for the entire organization.

Deciding what to do about in-process defects shouldn’t always require the convening of a material review board (MRB), the ubiquitous body in most manufacturing environments deciding what to do with nonconforming product. So what tools and training do individuals need to make good decisions? Along with authority, they need defined criteria and access to objective data to substantiate their decisions. For example, to determine the appropriate action to take for an identified product defect, the individual will need to know several steps.

• Can the material be reworked?

• If in a regulated industry, what kinds of reworks are permissible?

• Does the cost to rework exceed the cost of completely scrapping the material and re-manufacturing?


If, instead of reworking, there’s the possibility that the material can be reused with concession, the following questions would need to be answered.

• Are there regulatory or statutory constraints barring concession?

• Who is the contact at the client’s facility who can authorize the shipment of material with concession?

• Can material be regraded and sold into a secondary market, or is it acceptable for another category of customers?


A similar scenario unfolds involving evaluating a problem or troublesome situation to decide if corrective action is appropriate. ISO 9001 subclause 8.5.3 states that, “Corrective action shall be appropriate to the effects of the nonconformity encountered.” What tools do individuals need to responsibly determine if the effects of a problem warrant corrective action?

In this case they require:

• Knowledge of (and access to) objective data to help them comprehend the magnitude of the problem

• Competence to analyze the information from various sources to understand the complexity of the consequences

• The ability to asses the risk of inaction against the possible misallocation of precious resources to a situation of questionable merit.


For both decision-making processes, the decision makers must be provided with adequate tools and trained in their use for optimum results. They need to know what documents define criteria and which rules govern the decision-making process. Without training, individuals are limited to their own localized repertoire of knowledge and, in the absence of adequate data, often resort to taking their own best guess.

We must ensure that individuals have access to documents, records, and databases, and have the ability to decipher the information. In some cases, this may require inquiries to the accounting office to determine if financial records can shed more light on a given situation. Personnel need to be taught what information is available and how to find it. This encompasses the granting of authority and the requisite training to utilize the data correctly.

Without these tools empowerment simply degrades from an ephemeral feel-good event to an enduring stigma of defeat. Delegating responsibility is an enlightened decision, provided it’s backed up with the necessary equipment: Knowledge and guidance.


About The Author

Denise Robitaille’s picture

Denise Robitaille

Denise Robitaille is the author of thirteen books, including: ISO 9001:2015 Handbook for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses.

She is chair of PC302, the project committee responsible for the revision to ISO 19011, an active member of USTAG to ISO/TC 176 and technical expert on the working group that developed the current version of ISO 9004:2018. She has participated internationally in standards development for over 15 years. She is a globally recognized speaker and trainer. Denise is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality and an Exemplar Global certified lead assessor and an ASQ certified quality auditor.

As principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped many companies achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. She has conducted training courses for thousands of individuals on such topics as auditing, corrective action, document control, root cause analysis, and implementing ISO 9001. Among Denise’s books are: 9 Keys to Successful Audits, The (Almost) Painless ISO 9001:2015 Transition and The Corrective Action Handbook. She is a frequent contributor to several quality periodicals.