There is little doubt that in any organization, the leader’s vision is of key importance as a driver of growth and success. At the same time, it is the employees who become the essence and articulation of the leadership vision, applying their knowledge, skill, and abilities to bring the vision into reality.
In a historical period where more than half of the workforce is constituted by Millennials who reportedly lack the sense of loyalty to their employers, which characterized previous generations, the solidity of that structure is under threat. This reality, in combination with the challenges presented by a multi-generational working environment, means that organizational leaders have their work cut out.
Enter the Empowered Employee
“Empowered employees have the power to make decisions without a supervisor. They are entitled to go off script, bend the rules, do what they see fit if they believe it is the right thing to do for the customer.
More than any other kind of employee, the empowered employee is able to create a feeling of true customer service that ultimately yields much greater customer loyalty” – Simon Sinek
Employees who understand their role and responsibilities within their company, and work toward improving themselves both personally and professionally, can be extremely beneficial to an organization. Research also shows when employees feel they are valued and recognized for their efforts, they outperform both their own and the company’s expectations. It stands to say, the higher an employee’s level of engagement with their role in a company, and the greater the level of empowerment afforded to that employee, the greater their contribution will be in establishing a competitive edge for the organization.
How Empowerment may be misinterpreted
Giving employees the ability to make independent decisions that are in the best interest of the client and organization is the key to empowerment. Increasing the employee’s sense of ownership for a specific goal or objective allows the employee to be accountable for their decisions and responsible for the results. However, it would be a mistake to think that empowerment is all an employee needs.
While it’s true that an engaged and empowered employee is capable of producing extraordinary results, leaders must be equipped to assess both that employee’s readiness to accept responsibility and their emotional and intellectual aptitude for their role. Otherwise, there is the risk that the employee will be burdened with more than they are prepared to handle.
Competence in a specific skill area is an essential element of success. If an employee does not have the required competence, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to thrive in an environment where performance is valued and there is a culture of high performance.
Empowerment is not about allowing employees to run rampant or making decisions without proper preparation and guidance. Empowering employees is about allowing them to make independent decisions that are best for the organization and its customers. The ability to consistently demonstrate this level of decision-making boosts not only an employee’s view of their role in the organization but also their self-confidence, which is an often-overlooked form of return on investment in training.
Employee Empowerment Tips and Methods
What changes can be implemented and what sort of culture can be adopted within a company to make it both a great place to work and a high-performing profitable business? The following are some proven best practices.
1. Clearly Define Expectations and Roles
What the company expects from employees and how they can benefit the company as well as themselves, is information that should be communicated as soon as possible, preferably during the hiring process. This sets the foundation to help individual employees gain a sense of purpose, improved focus, and enhances their ability to contribute to organizational goals.
2. Provide Sufficient Relational Context
The better employees understand their roles within the organization, the better they will be able to perform. But if they clearly understand the leadership vision, and have a context to refer to, when they are to required to make an important decision, they are more likely to do so in a way which benefits the organization and its clients.
3. Promote Independent Thought and Decision making
In a supportive environment where employees are able to align their behaviors with a clearly articulated leadership vision, their decision-making ability is further enhanced when they are given the freedom to think independently within particular situations and respond as they see fit. This builds self-reliance and creates an environment, which encourages action rather than hesitation.
According to John Zink from PHCC Educational Foundation, “Sometimes it takes an employee stepping outside of their authority to show the benefits of employee empowerment for owners.” Southwest Airlines is a case in point. All employees have the authority to make decisions that are in the best interests of the customer and the company without seeking approval. Each time an employee is enabled to think independently, they bring new and valuable insights into the organizational equation.
4. Allow a Safe Level of Failure
Nobody is born absolutely successful at everything, and it is only human to make mistakes. Failure provides the opportunity for learning from an experience and can lead to better products, or solutions in the future. What is key is the organization’s response to failure. If every failure is met with intense scrutiny and the threat of job loss, the resounding message to employees is that taking risks is detrimental. However, if failure is met with a commitment to identifying the root causes and provides the resources and knowledge required to allow employees to learn, the prevailing culture of the organization will support the notion that failure is part of growth, and growth leads to success.
5. Reward the Employee’s Efforts
A well-designed and implemented incentive program is the best way to reinforce positive employee behavior and performance. Research shows that such programs, combined with the abovementioned behaviors, drive a performance culture from within, creating a virtuous circle, which further accelerates organizational performance. This is the ultimate goal of recruiting, hiring and developing employees in the first place.
The Bottom Line
The relationship between employee empowerment and organizational success is clearly demonstrated by research. For example in successive Employee Engagement Benchmark Studies, the Tempkin Group consistently report a positive correlation between high employee engagement levels and significantly above-average financial performance.
I believe engagement is a by-product of empowerment. When your employees appreciate the fact that they are held accountable for decisions and are trusted to make the right decisions, you will have their full attention. And that’s powerful.
Clearly, employees can lead their organization and themselves to extraordinary results when given the appropriate framework and support. Taking the further step of enabling them to grow beyond the baseline skills defined for their role and giving them a degree of freedom to act, creates a win-win scenario for business and employee alike.
At the end of the day, if your employees aren’t prepared to lead, will they be any more open to being led?