This #HumansofHR guest post is from author and consultant Denise Dudley. Are you promoting human-centered HR in your work? Send guest post ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Employee empowerment. It’s a term that’s bandied around a lot these days. Just go ahead and Google it, and you’ll find countless articles on the subject — almost none of which will tell you anything that’s really meat-and-potatoes (or tofu-and-brown rice) useful. And while it might be fun to discuss empowerment theories over a beer or two, most people — both workers and company leaders — are at a loss for how to implement an effective employee empowerment program that actually works.
Why? Well, for starters, during my fairly long career as a business consultant, I’ve seen very few companies (Ahem — let’s put the onus where it belongs: senior executives) who’ve been willing to support and promote empowerment within the troops. The threat of “loss of control” seems to be the main reason, and as the former CEO of a large public seminar company, I can empathize — but only to a certain degree.
I believe that many companies fail in implementing truly successful employee empowerment programs because senior executives desperately wish to hang onto the old “command and control” model of management. However, it’s also my belief that employee empowerment, when implemented correctly, empowers everyone — not just workers, but managers and CEOs, as well.
Before we continue, let’s establish a definition of employee empowerment: It’s the process of allowing employees to independently take control, take action, and make decisions about their jobs, in an environment that encourages autonomy and self-direction. Employee empowerment creates a state of well being, in which employees feel self-authorized and in control of their destiny.
Sounds good, right? So what can you do to promote employee empowerment within your own company or organization? Let’s examine this challenge from two different perspectives.
You, the Manager
Look about and figure out where you don’t need to be. Many managers go through their daily routines by rote, never really considering whether their involvement or participation in a certain function is actually necessary. (Case in point: as a management consultant, I’ve observed many a manager “signing off” on repetitious, perfunctory paperwork that their employees would be perfectly capable of authorizing.)
[bctt tweet=”You allow your employees to take more control … guess who has more time to get other things done?” username=”reflektive”]
So start by examining your workday. Look at the meetings you hold, the projects you run, the schedules you create, the information you control, the keys you have to the broom closet or the office supply cabinet (yes, I actually knew a control freak executive who closely guarded the only keys to the janitorial closet!), and ask yourself where your presence and involvement are truly essential (or at least helpful), or whether you could back out and allow someone else to take over. In the process, not only do you allow your employees to take more control over their lives and their jobs, guess who suddenly has more time to get other things done?
Rev up your communication skills. If you intend to empower your employees, you’re going to be required to communicate like a pro. In fact, the success of your employee empowerment program is utterly dependent upon your ability to share your thoughts, ideas, intentions, and assumptions. It’s all about communicating an understanding who’s responsible for what, mapping out the program to everyone involved, being able to share your expectations — and then backing off. (Most managers find the “backing off” part the hardest, but trust me, it’s well worth the minor growing pangs you’ll feel.)
You must be able to communicate the department’s (and the company’s) goals and objectives, which work needs to take priority, and how to solve problems when things go wrong (and they will). And perhaps even more importantly, you must also be open and available to receive communication from your employees! Empowerment is not about granting more authority to someone and then taking a permanent vacation from responsibility. It’s about supporting your employees, being there if they need you, and assuring them, when necessary, that they’re completely capable of making their own decisions.
Ask around. Your employees are walking, talking treasure troves of information. They already know where they could reasonably take on more responsibility. They know what decisions could be made without your input. They know which areas could be streamlined if they were given the opportunity to chart their own course. And this should be good news — you don’t even have to be an empowerment expert to look like a modern day hero to your people. Simply bring them together, sit down, relax, and ask them where they would like to take on more responsibility. If you’re the type of manager who encourages honesty and openness, they’ll tell you! And you just might find yourself agreeing with them, and implementing their ideas for the betterment of all involved.
[bctt tweet=”You don’t even have to be an empowerment expert to look like a modern day hero to your people” username=”reflektive”]
Baby steps are good. Feeling a little wobbly in the knees when you think about handing more “power to the people?” Then start with a few small things. Announce that your employees can handle their own weekly meetings, and then see what it feels like to let go.
Tell your workers that they’re free to set their own production schedules as long as the work gets done on time. (In high school, my son worked as a lifeguard at a swimming pool where the employees were empowered create all the staffing schedules — and guess what? There was never one problem with uncovered shifts, no-shows, or sick call-ins, because the employees felt a sense of pride, self-governance, and control.) So have a go at it, and see what happens. If you start small, it’s unlikely you’ll create a disaster — and you just might discover a better way to manage your people.
You, the Employee
Choose wisely. Both Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones were given this advice, and they both fared pretty well. Before you even join an organization, check out everything you can about its culture, and in particular, how it views employee empowerment. Go on the company’s website and get a feel for how it treats its people. Is empowerment a stated goal for the organization? Read up on Glassdoor. What’s being said by current and former employees? In your interview, ask the company representative if there’s an active empowerment program in place. (If not, don’t necessarily eliminate them from the running — perhaps you can implement one!)
[bctt tweet=”Before joining, check out everything you can about its culture and how it views empowerment” username=”reflektive”]
Here’s an extra benefit to your inquiry: your interviewer will realize — and hopefully take note — that nowadays, employee empowerment is an essential aspect of how prospective employees decide where they want to work. And then, if you have a choice, choose a company that already values its employees enough to grant them autonomy and independence.
(Too late? Already working for a company that’s just so-so on the empowerment scale? Read on — you still have options.)
Ask, and ye shall (possibly) receive. One thing’s for sure: if you don’t ask, it’s unlikely someone’s simply going to walk up and hand you more autonomy. Recently, I consulted with a young manager who wanted more control in his job. Specifically, he wanted to be empowered to set the break and meal schedules for his group of employees (this was characteristically dictated to each work group by the HR department).
Together, we rehearsed an entire presentation, from the words he would use to make the request, to the reasons he would give for why this was a good idea, to the responses he would make to the inevitable pushback from management. Instead, here’s what happened: he went to his boss, asked whether he could become responsible for his employees’ break and meal schedules, and before he could even proceed with the whys and wherefores of his request, his boss enthusiastically declared, “Great idea! I never really thought about that. Go for it, and thanks for asking.” So do your homework, be prepared to argue your case (in case you need to), and give it a try.
Become visible, valuable, productive, and trustworthy. This one’s sort of a “duh.” No one is going to award you more autonomy if you’re always late for work. Or if you barely accomplish your daily tasks — or make scads of errors. Or if you seem a little “iffy” in the honesty department. Or if you’re wishy-washy and passive.
Empowerment is typically earned, and is rarely given to those who fail to impress. So make sure you’re the person whose work performance is above reproach on all levels. What’s more, wherever possible, go the extra mile by taking on optional assignments, volunteering for jobs no one else wants, helping other workers with their tasks — whatever it takes to be exemplary. I’m not saying that an organization will immediately recognize you for your stellar efforts and instantly grant you more independence, but you’ll be in a much better position to negotiate for more autonomy if you’re already on their radar as a standout employee.
[bctt tweet=”Empowering employees fosters their entrepreneurial spirits” username=”reflektive”]
Not quite convinced that employee empowerment is worth the effort? How about this: Empowering employees fosters their entrepreneurial spirits. Empowerment prompts them to make decisions, take action, and feel as if they’re in control of their own destinies. And this feeling translates into happier employees, less turnover, fewer sick days, greater company loyalty, and a desire to “go the extra mile” for the organization.
Empowered employees achieve their own personal successes through their direct efforts, which in turn benefits the overall success of the entire organization. In essence, everybody wins — and don’t you just love a good win-win story?