What is an empowered employee?
Employee empowerment is about employees having a certain degree of autonomy and responsibility for decision-making in their daily work. It’s about them being accountable, and their management trusting them, meaning both parties will have to work on it. Yep, teamwork.
It’s also a vital part of creating a better company culture. Empowering employees to step up and make their own decisions creates a win-win situation. Not only do employees and the business benefit from this, but also their customers too. Why is that the case, and how do you make it happen? Let’s take a look at the benefits of empowered employees and how to get there.
Why empowered employees help businesses thrive
Empowerment is based on the belief that employees have the ability to do their job and letting them do it. A no-brainer really: when hiring someone, you probably do so because you think they’re qualified and up to the task. Why check on that every day?
Still, some managers are hesitant to "give away" responsibility, while that shouldn’t be seen as a gift, but rather as a given — if you have the right people in place.
Nobody has ever worked better while being micromanaged, on the contrary, even. It leads to frustration among employees, and that will inevitably reach customers too, whether it’s because processes take longer than necessary or because a bad mood is highly contagious.
Research shows that when employees feel empowered at work, it’s associated with:
- Stronger job performance
- job satisfaction
- commitment to the organization
To make that a bit more concrete: increasing employee engagement investments by 10% can increase profits by $2,400 per employee per year.
Investing in empowerment and engagement among your employees also helps you retain top talent. Simultaneously, it’s good for your brand: empowered employees who feel in charge and proud of their work will advocate your organization on social networks.
How to empower your employees
There’s no hack or quick fix to employee empowerment. It’s not a trick. It should be part of a greater plan to improve the company culture and increase customer satisfaction. Here are 7 ways to get started.
1. Give employees authority and ownership
Delegating tasks is a crucial part of employee empowerment — and then trusting them to perform that task, without having a manager looking over their shoulder every step of the way.
This isn’t a one-time thing and can’t be done with creating a new project for them to work on. Giving employees the authority to make decisions and making them responsible for everyday or common tasks takes away the ‘’let me ask my boss’’ barrier.
For instance, give them the resources and power to make decisions about service recovery. Some companies allocate each employee a specific budget to make things right with a customer when an issue occurs. Simple, yet effective.
It saves time by not always having to run to the next person on the chain of command. And it boosts creativity: it forces employees to find a fitting solution themselves, without them asking their manager ‘’what they would do’’. Customers get served faster, and managers can focus on other tasks.
This way of empowerment isn’t about removing structure. It’s merely a different framework to work within, with clear boundaries and guidelines in which employees are allowed and expected to make their own decisions.
Structure shouldn’t be seen as something that limits employees in their capabilities. It should be used to give a pathway to maximize their talents.
2. Focus on the customer
Customers play an important role in employee empowerment. Ultimately, it’s the customer who pays the bills. Focusing on the customer’s needs gives employees and management a shared objective.
When employees feel empowered to make decisions that help the customer, they’re contributing to the goals of the organization and their paycheque. Make them aware of that and allow them to make an impact.
By giving an employee the tools and authority to deal with angry or disappointed customers — or even to make satisfied customers even happier — they’ll feel they’re more in control.
3. Praise effort and forgive mistakes
The truth is: employees won’t make the right call every time. But when they miss the mark, that’s when you can truly elevate empowerment. By being forgiving and giving feedback.
If someone isn’t making mistakes, it’s probably because they’re playing it safe. Nobody is perfect. If an employee makes a mistake, it’s a sign they’re reaching higher, daring to do something differently.
Take the time and opportunity to coach them on a more appropriate response or action. Constructive feedback is critical. Don’t punish mistakes: this could encourage over-conservative behavior, which might set you back years in reaching your goals.
Note: you should establish a clear difference between what’s an acceptable mistake and what’s simply an unforgivable offense.
Now, don’t take it too far and just focus on celebrating mistakes. Of course, there should be victories too. But try focusing on effort instead of talent. Praising effort encourages people to learn. Praising talent is focusing on the things that come easy — there’s no growth in that.
4. Encourage communication and transparency
To increase trust and show that all ideas and input are welcome, it’s vital to communicate about the current situation and the desired one openly.
Give employees in decision-making positions access to data to help them make better decisions. From customer feedback to poorly selling products: communicate which fields you’re struggling in — it only takes one employee with a good idea to help you out.
5. Consider social style
Some people are good with other people, and some are better behind the scenes. Find the right place for everyone to thrive.
To find out where that right place is, you need to know more about your employees. One way to do this is with personality quizzes. Create a quiz to identify what everyone’s strengths are and build teams in which the right personalities are doing the right jobs.
Userlane got to know their employees better using a quiz: easy, fun, and less scary than a face-to-face.
6. Allow opportunities for growth
Don’t stop empowering employees to thrive in their current position. Fostering internal development and growth is only logical for companies that have goals themselves. While growing your organization, keep in mind that your employees need to grow with you.
Expecting a manager of a small team to want to do the same job in 10 years, is thinking you have someone on board with no ambition — that doesn’t match your organization goals, does it? And it’s probably not what that employee wants either.
The key to allowing them to grow is to listen and observe actively. What are their dreams and their struggles? How do they function in their current position, which strengths are they showing there? Allow them to build on those, rather than just trying to fix up some irrelevant weaknesses.
7. Training and tools
Don’t throw your employees in front of the wolves without anything to defend themselves. Empowering employees means not just giving the responsibility to make choices independently, but also providing tools and training to do so effectively. Provide training in relevant fields, such as leadership, customer success, or data analysis.
If you empower employees, it has nothing to do with losing control. You get to focus on important tasks, create a better culture, and have happier customers because of it.