Imagine the potential of a workplace where employees are more confident to make decisions; a place where they are more accountable, more satisfied and where problems are resolved much faster. It might seem like a corporate pipe-dream, but these outcomes are just some of the benefits of a successful workforce empowerment model.
Is it a coincidence some of the world’s largest brands, such as Disney and Google, are also among the biggest practitioners of workplace empowerment?
While the idea of employee empowerment is considered a current trend, the concept is not new. And these days many businesses realise that its staff is their company’s biggest asset. Having the right people in the right seats is priceless. After all, a business is only as good as the people running the day-to-day.
What’s more, front-line staff are the only ones who truly understand how most company processes work. Working closely with customers, for example, gives these employees unique insight into how the company operates in a real-world situation. They’re often well-placed to benefit business decisions.
So what do unempowered workplaces look like?
High staff turnovers, low morale and unhealthy levels of stress can all stem from a lack of empowerment. If employees aren’t trusted to deliver their responsibilities without the need for micromanagement, or conversely are tasked with delivering beyond their capabilities, they can begin to feel dissatisfied and disengaged.
A 2019 study by CENSUSWIDE revealed that more than a third of employees interviewed felt undervalued and would not recommend their current employer to friends. If those employees had felt more empowered in their workplace, would this number be so high?
Often the usual command and control style of management sees an employee waiting to be given empowerment by a manager.
But proper empowerment means an employee is self-directed and has control of the areas of responsibility for their job role. They’re trusted, they understand the business goals and they have the tools to deliver successfully. This devolution of power makes employees more accountable for their work and workloads, ensures problems are resolved faster, and for both managers and employees, time is freed up.
Saving time means increased output, which could equal a positive impact on the business’s bottom line.
Embracing empowerment – how to deliver a happy staff
True empowerment comes from the individual’s ability to exercise authority within their job role… but only if management gives them this opportunity. This can only come about through significant change, which needs to happen at three levels – the organisational, managerial and individual.
At organisational level
The vision and purpose of the company must be communicated. If managers and individuals don’t understand where the company is going, they will never truly know what they’re working towards. Managers and individuals should also be consulted during the decision-making that affects the way they work. If sweeping changes are made and they were never consulted – how can they ever feel empowered?
At managerial level
Important company information needs to be shared with individuals, autonomy within roles needs to be created, and managers must be prepared to listen, digest what is happening and decide on the next steps. What are the recurring problems? What would help the team be more productive? Working together, determine the tools, resources and processes they have and need in place to overcome the barriers they’re facing.
At individual level
The employee needs to feel they have the ability to exercise authority within their job role. They need tools in place to deliver their job effectively. Whether that means having a team around them, software that automates part of their job or KPIs to work towards, tools can take many forms.
Why managers have the biggest role to play
When you’re the one that has the day-to-day responsibility of ensuring teams deliver, it falls to you to give them what they need.
And because empowerment isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, each distinct role is going to require something different. Speaking to your employees is always the best place to start, but there are some things you can do right now to start making a difference…
Loosen the boundaries
Trust is an important thing. Trust your staff and, little by little, they will grow in skill and confidence. Find what someone does best and let them do it their way. Your success depends on it.
Listen, listen, listen
In some cases, many grassroots staff have more knowledge of day-to-day processes than senior executives. That’s not to say they will have all the skills to solve the problems they bring to you, but they will understand what and why they’re being slowed down
It’s also important to remember that listening also means checking with employees that they’re comfortable with any extra responsibility. If what you’re asking of them doesn’t align with their personal goals, the result could be negative…
Give positive feedback
Everyone likes being told when they’ve done well. And a job well done needs praise. A job done not so well needs constructive feedback too, but remember to allow for mistakes that aren’t crucial. Learn from them. Put things in place to stop them from happening again.
Time and space
Give employees time to experiment and time to learn.
Micromanagement, the polar opposite of workplace empowerment, is nearly always received negatively, even if it’s practised unintentionally. The outcomes for staff working under a manager with this trait are feelings of demotivation, being stifled and a general focus on the wrong priorities. Another perhaps overlooked element of a micromanager is the toll it can take on the health of the manager themselves. Space to breathe is a win-win for all.
Employee empowerment works, so why aren’t we all doing it?
In the fast-moving world of business, the need for quick decisions and actions can easily get in the way of creating an empowered environment for employees, even when managers believe it’s the right thing to do.
It’s not instant, and it may not feel tangible at first. But over time when teams feel empowered, employee output is increased, they feel happier, and morale rises.
If implemented correctly, managers will see increased confidence to complete tasks over time. Any problems will be addressed and likely rectified a lot sooner, allowing projects to move forward at pace. Furthermore, if employees are enabled to solve their own problems, it will allow managers more time for high-level business areas such as strategic thinking.
But even better for an organisation is that a fully empowered staff is more likely to attract the right kind of employee in the first place. Empowered employees radiate competence and happiness, and that’s a fantastic message to send out to new recruits.
Many businesses today recognise the potential of workplace empowerment and its effect on staff motivation, happiness and corporate profits. But to truly be successful, empowerment must be embraced company-wide – at the organisation, manager and individual level. Sometimes we need to work together now in order to achieve more autonomy in the future. There’s definitely no ‘I’ in team, but there sure is power in empowerment.