Sure, it's easy to say that you want to build a company culture that values empowerment, but how do you do it?
A common question I hear from business owners is “what can I do to help my staff care about the business?” Solving this puzzle is the key to unlocking untapped productivity and improved morale; figure out how to leverage the strengths and talents of your people, and you improve not only productivity but job satisfaction as well.
In my mind, the easiest way to get the best out of someone is to empower them to take ownership of their role. When someone wants to be a top performer, the entire company benefits: they do better in their role, which benefits your business directly, and they feel better about doing it, which benefits them directly.
As you are undoubtedly aware, this is much easier said than done. While building my own businesses and working with experienced business owners, I’ve learned several things you need to consider when building a culture that values empowerment. Here are three to start with.
Empowerment needs a strong foundation
The first part of helping someone become invested in their role is to provide them with something to get invested in. All jobs, whether they involve cleaning toilets or managing a team of people, benefit when the person doing them is an active and willing participant (as opposed to someone who is just along for the ride). You need to show them that their role is one that they are encouraged to take ownership in.
Asking someone to make that kind of personal investment is a lot easier when they trust you.
Your team needs to trust that you have their best interests in mind and that you will help them succeed. Also, you need to trust that your employees are fulfilling their duties and representing your company positively.
Build trust with your team
Whether you manage a single staff member or a large team of people, building trust — and doing so quickly — is foundational in helping your team succeed.
Trust is a tricky thing: it can’t be bought, donated, or given. It must be earned. The best way to earn someone's trust is to:
- Provide them value - Help your staff when they need it, teach them ways to be successful and provide them support that makes it easier for them to do their jobs.
- Listen to their feedback - Everyone you employ can help improve your organization. Give them a chance to share their ideas by engaging them in meaningful dialogue. You may find that you get more out of these meetings if you have them off-site, away from their normal work environment. Lunch works well for these types of conversations.
- Do your part - When your team sees you working hard to help them be successful, they will respond in kind. Working toward a common goal creates a sense of unity and purpose.
Create relationships based on mutual respect
Mutual respect is what underpins the relationship you have with your team. Like trust, respect is something that must be earned and maintained. Earning someone’s respect requires an investment on your part:
- Lead by example - You can’t expect your staff to respect rules regarding punctuality when you’re strolling in late to meetings. Set the example and embody the behaviors and qualities you want your staff to adopt.
- Support your team - This can come in many forms, from lending a helping hand when things are busy to having your staff’s back when things go wrong.
- Coach before your criticize - Use mistakes and missed opportunities as a coaching exercise. Helping your staff overcome obstacles improves their confidence and your relationship.
Creating a culture of empowerment doesn’t mean that you eliminate structure. Rather, empower your staff to know the exact path to success and how you will define it.
Jared Sarbit, one of the managing partners of Picture Perfect Cleaning, gave me a piece of advice that helps his company offer his staff a “hands-off” working environment without sacrificing product quality or customer service.
“We believe that mutual accountability is important. We set clear performance expectations that are measurable and actionable through real-world metrics. Our staff know exactly what we’re looking for and how we’re evaluating them.”
Conversely, just as Jared’s staff know how they are being evaluated, Jared regularly meets with his team to get their perspective on how they, and the company, are doing. This allows Jared to know where the gaps in his company are and it provides his employees with a direct line of communication with his leadership team. It also gives his staff a chance to evaluate him.
As Jared says, “If we don’t empower our people, we’ll burn ourselves out and ultimately fail.”
Do your employees know how you evaluate their performance? Do you know how your employees are evaluating you?
Provide your team with tools
If your job is to dig a hole, but you aren’t given a shovel, you’re unlikely to feel set up to succeed. As business owners, we often have ideas about what our team needs, and it’s not uncommon for what we feel our team needs and what our team feels it needs to be out of alignment.
This is a solvable problem.
Tools of the trade matter
One of the best ways to influence employee satisfaction is to give your staff help determining the tools that they need to be successful. When someone feels supported and valued, they are more likely to be engaged and interested in their work. This is when people perform at their best.
When I was the operations manager for a mid-sized cleaning company, a few of the cleaning staff mentioned to me that carpeted stairs were difficult to vacuum with our existing equipment. I was surprised by this, as our vacuums were high-quality commercial-grade units that always performed well.
I purchased new vacuums that I was told were the best of the best. You can imagine my disappointment when the staff continued to complain about the difficulty of carpeted stairs.
In my haste to solve the problem, I purchased new vacuums. As it turns out, the vacuums weren’t the issue so much as the attachments we were using weren’t up for the job. Having to manually scrub the stairs was time-consuming and difficult to do on large staircases.
Near the end of the meeting, one of the cleaners suggested that we look into a powered stair cleaning tool. At $195 each, these tools weren’t inexpensive, so we bought one as a trial.
For two weeks straight the cleaning teams rushed to sign out the rotary head every morning. Feedback was universally positive. We purchased 7 more and equipped each team with one.
The cleaners were thrilled, and so were we.
The people who know their equipment needs best are the people who use it in their work. Giving your staff the opportunity to help determine the tools they use is a great way to get them interested and invested in their work.
Investment in your staff will always pay off
The most important lesson I’ve learned about empowering people and helping them achieve their potential is that the simple act of investing in them is empowering in itself. People generally respond positively when they feel that others are interested in seeing them be successful.
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