Empowerment in a small family business
: an action research approach

  • Cheuk Yan Li

    Student thesis: Professional Doctorate - CDU


    Empowerment is an exciting and valuable concept in which more and more people take an interest in and try to practise it. However, little research has examined explicitly the influence of the organizational context on individual empowerment. The project discussed in this dissertation was an intervention in a small family business - a small hotel operated in Darwin, Australia by a Chinese immigrant entrepreneur with his wife. They bought the business in November 2000. The research approach used was an action research and the methodology was based on constructivist research principles, emphasizing collaboration, emergence and reflective critique and the expected action outcome was the empowerment of the owner manager.

    The project identified serious challenges facing the small business owner especially the cultural differences between the mainstream Australian culture and the owner manager's Chinese culture. It highlighted issues including values and attitudes, the management practice and leadership style, communication pattern and perception of customer services; and the implementation of organizational change.

    The intervention occurred when the target group - both the owner manager and the employees were engaged in a sequence of tasks with the author of this dissertation where the task goals were related directly to organizational change. The dissertation outlines how the process intervention approach was carried out. Through various intervention processes, the owner manager and his employees were empowered to learn, to enhance their self-efficacy; and to be more competent in the face of obstacles.

    Two fundamental theoretical questions emerged: does small mean deficient in terms of resources, quality, management and growth? is the owner manager of small business powerful or powerless because he or she is the only person to manage the business? A local theory was developed - ways to actualize the success of a small business. With the local theory, a model of self-empowerment of the owner manager is created. There are three aspects of self-empowerment - psychosocial, cultural, and intellectual. Since empowerment is a reciprocal process, there is a looping of encouragement between the owner manager and his employees. in other words, when the owner manager became an empowering manager, he could empower his employees so that organizational change would be implemented effectively.

    A reflective evaluation of the project explores the validity of the process. Validity includes both internal and external validity. Apart from the evaluation, substantial personal reflection and learning were identified.

    The project achieved the planned outcomes - helped the owner- manager to become an empowering manager and a local theory of actualizing the success of a small business was developed.
    Date of AwardOct 2002
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorMurray Keith Redman (Supervisor)

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