There's plenty of research out there showing that building a culture of employees who feel empowered yields tremendous outcomes for companies and their success. Empowered employees have far higher job satisfaction, job performance and commitment to the company than those who don't feel empowered. They are more likely to be creative and show kindness and support toward other co-workers, and they are also more likely to go out of their way to help fellow employees. A company that attracts and retains these kinds of employees ensures future success, and thus, empowered employees are the ultimate in good business.
Yet much of that likely sounds too good to be true. It's not. While it takes hard work, planning, and a concerted effort to create and foster a culture of empowerment in your company, it can be done.
Here's how to build a company that encourages employee empowerment and growth that will prosper well into the future.
Connect with your employees.
The first step in creating a culture of empowerment and growth within your organization is understanding where you currently are and where you'd like to go. From a management perspective, that means you need to know what your employees currently think about the company environment and what they think could be improved.
Back in 2018, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) did a study of more than 2,000 employees at companies in 50 different countries. They found that despite what top leadership may say about their positive and empowering business culture, employees may feel far less upbeat about it. That means regardless of what you tout from the top, it just might not be filtering down into your culture. In order to understand where that disconnect happens, you need to drill down and connect with your employees about where things are failing on the cultural front.
That means the best first step you can take is asking questions to uncover where what you say and what actually happens inside the company is falling apart. You need to discover where the breakdown is happening within your company's walls, and that can be tricky to do.
You can use employee surveys or individual interviews, but the best tool by far is to find a way to encourage real conversations around the work culture you're trying to create. This can be tricky since most employees are often not keen on sharing what they actually think and feel, especially when it comes to sharing it with a superior. As the PWC study suggests, you need to "change your listening tours" to foster real, healthy debate and exchange about what's really going on in your company. That's the only practical way to get a handle on any disconnect present around empowerment and business culture.
It also means thinking beyond just the perks your corporation or office offers. While these can be great for employee morale, they can also be seen by employees as one more way that the corporation tries to force a more "enjoyable" working environment rather than encourage a system of empowerment. "Flash" without follow-through can be more damaging than helpful when it comes to managing your corporate culture.
Identify what needs to change.
Once you have connected with your employees, it's time to identify what you need to change. That means taking a good, hard look at where your company might be falling down on creating an empowering environment.
Identifying what the change needs to be can be a tricky part of developing employee empowerment – mainly because in some ways, the things that need to change to improve employee engagement might be systems and structures that have been in place since your company began. It can require a good, hard look at things that might not be easy to change.
The best approach to take when faced with this kind of dilemma is to have a clear vision of what you want to see change and then create a clear path of action to make the change happen. To truly empower employees, you must be willing to make hard changes if they are needed.
One thing to know is that not every change has to be tremendous. It can also be small, and the best way to tackle that change is to become your own best advocate – more on this below.
Become the change you want to see.
When it comes to making smaller cultural changes to encourage an environment of empowered employees, there are a few easy paths to take. The quickest and easiest method is to become the change you want to see.
Say, for example, you want to see more diversity of voices across your company. Often, diverse voices end up being stifled by the majority, so to amplify them, you need to find those who've felt marginalized and give them the power and a platform to speak up. As a leader, you need to help lift their voices and opinions and truly become the change that you want to see. When others in your organization see that you are making those changes, they will likely follow in your footsteps and model your behavior.
In addition, you should also find ways to adopt changes in your own interactions and behavior that help support those things you want to see evolve within your company in order to create a culture of empowered employees. Perhaps that means employing more active listening in all your meetings and calls. Maybe that means allowing people the opportunity to speak up about things that undermine employee morale.
Either way, it means identifying ways that you, your leadership team and your co-workers can model the behaviors that you want to see take hold across the organization. Every opportunity that you get to reinforce good behavior is a chance to get the good changes you want to see to stick around and become part of the culture.
Turn employees into brand ambassadors.
One sure way to foster a culture of empowered employees is to turn your employees into brand ambassadors. They can be powerful advocates for your internal and external brand, can help you attract top talent and are the key catalysts of change for your company culture.
Turning your employees into brand ambassadors can be a complicated process, as there are a few steps you need to take, but the most important one is to be a role model in everything that you do and learn how to listen to your employees actively.
This idea really dovetails nicely with what the PWC report found: Leaders have to embody the change they want to see in their organization. The PWC report says that as a corporate leader, you must truly leverage the "show me" age — and take critical, visible and concrete steps to improve the culture of empowerment. You also must repeat the behaviors you want to see frequently and encourage other leaders in your organization to do the same.
Know that brand advocates don't have to have fancy titles, either. In fact, it pays to identify those leaders in your organization who may not necessarily have a title but who know and understand what’s going on at the ground level and influence those they connect with across the company. You need to seek out what PWC calls the "emotionally astute" or "informal leaders" to help the culture evolve to empower employees more comprehensively.
Commit to a constant cultural evolution.
The one major mistake that most corporate leaders make is thinking that fostering a culture of empowered employees is a "one and done" thing. It's not. Culture, whether it's an internal business culture or that of a nation, is continually evolving and changing. Without change, your business becomes stagnant and stuck, so you have to continually reevaluate where you are and where you want to be when it comes to creating a culture of empowered employees.
The PWC report points out that 42% of respondents believe that their company culture has not changed or evolved in the last five years. Given the way the world has changed in five years, this is highly unlikely to be the case.
As an example, think back to January of this year. While it was barely six months ago, the entire world has been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are still trying to figure out how to contain the virus. Workplaces have had to adapt to remote working environments. Parents have had to figure out how to balance caring for their children while staying connected at work. Governments and businesses have had to grapple with new rules and regulations around how best to keep people safe. Regardless of what industry you are in, all of those changes have had significant impacts on company culture.
While 2020 is probably an outlier in the realm of total upheaval, it is a prime example of the fact that the world and business can and will change. As leaders, we must continually evaluate how that change impacts our culture and how we can best continue to support a business culture of empowered employees. Creating a culture of empowered employees is iterative, and it doesn’t end when you have "achieved" the desired change. Never stop striving to create a culture of empowered employees, and you’ll be sure to see a wealth of success in the future.