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Whatever it takes? managing 'empowered' employees and the service encounter in an international hotel chain

Jones, C. and Taylor, G.T. and Nickson, D.P. (1997) Whatever it takes? managing 'empowered' employees and the service encounter in an international hotel chain. Work, Employment and Society, 11 (3). pp. 541-554. ISSN 0950-0170

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In an attempt to encourage employee discretion and self-direction many luxury international hotels are turning to employee empowerment strategies as a solution. These are based on the assumption that 'most employess can make good decisions if they are properly socialised, trained and informed. They can be internally motivated to perform effectively, and they are capable of self-control and self-direction' (Bowen and Lawler 1992: 35). Empowerment is represented as a fundamental break with the systems-driven approach of the past, and to be indicative of a looser and more normatively-based integration via corporate cultures and philosophies (Barge 1993) in which 'the ideas, beliefs and values of the firm influence employees to act in customer oriented ways' (Bowen and Basch 1992: 212). In the rest of the this paper we explore the way in which managers in one internationalising hotel chain, which we have called Americo, are trying to operationalise a corporate ideology in which employee empowerment is a central component of an overall Total Quality Management (TQM) strategy. We will first outline the corporate view of empowerment at Americo before going on to consider the more diffuse mechanisms of control that similarly underpin the corporate philosophy of 'doing whatever it takes' in an attempt by the company to ensure that these apparently contradictory customer demands are met.