How Leaders Can Master the Art of Empowering Employees

By Abeer Raza,
business.com writer
|
Jan 30, 2020
Image Credit: undefined undefined / Getty Images

Employees want to feel important, and when the company they work for believes in their work, they become far more productive and engaged.

Empowering employees is an art that leaders need to master. As a business owner, your employees should be the most valuable asset you have because their performance is directly linked to your business's success.

These are the key takeaways of this article that can help you enhance the workplace culture of your company:

  • Empowering employees can drastically improve different components of your business, such as sales, marketing, production and customer service
  • Employee empowerment is a message, and delivering that message is crucial for it to work.
  • Empowerment only works if there is a culture of forgiveness; developing a forgiving culture is as important as empowering your resources.
  • Employee empowerment can also deteriorate your company culture, but you can ensure that such situations don't arise through transparency. 

So what exactly is employee empowerment, and what makes it successful? Let's take an in-depth look at what it is and how you can do it for your business.

What is employee empowerment?

Employee empowerment is about dispensing a degree of autonomy and responsibility to your resources by giving them decision-making powers, related to their specific organizational tasks. This includes limited functional autonomy for senior staff, managers, executives and junior employees.

The idea behind employee empowerment is to ensure that on a psychological level, each employee feels like their efforts hold value for the company. This increases responsibility within your teams.

Empowerment can also come in shape of allowing individuals to innovate in their area of expertise and conduct trial and error. It helps employees work in their comfort zone while continually improving their productivity.

The message of empowerment

When companies empower their employees, the message they send out needs to be precise. The message should be able to align resources to the company's long-term values and goals. The idea is to tell employees that we trust you to make the call that is in the best interest of our goals.

For this, the employees need to understand the vision of the company for which CEOs can take specific steps, but more on that later in the article.

The message you send out should reflect a sense of trust from the senior management toward employees as it helps increase the confidence and work ethic of your resources.

It also makes employees feel proud of the work they are doing, because one of the things that resources hate the most is feeling that the work they are doing is not benefitting them in any way, shape, or form.

Employees want to feel important, and when the company they work for believes in their work, they become far more productive and engaged than would otherwise be the case.

There can be a downside to blanket employee empowerment if the message is not made clear to employees.

How empowerment positively affects different aspects of a business

For each of the functions of a business, empowerment brings different benefits. Each individual within these departments, if empowered, is more likely to innovate, because they understand that they can own the results of it, rather than the success being attributed to those in higher managerial positions.

This recognition incentivizes workers to seek improvement as it adds to their value in the organization, improving their ability to grow as professionals in their field and be recognized for their efforts.

Sales

For customer-facing businesses, a sales team is one of the most important bodies that help companies to generate revenue. An empowered sales team can attract customers through different discounts or offers that capture their customer's interest immediately. If your sales representatives are not given the autonomy, their ability to convert leads remains hampered.

By empowering your team, you give them the ability to make on-the-spot decisions without depending on an approval that could benefit your company, not just for one sale but for thousands of sales during the year.

Production

For production teams, empowerment can improve product quality significantly.

We allow our team to do this because we understand that individuals have their limitations and would instead work much more productively within their comfort zone, while they continue to learn other frameworks to synchronize with the team.

Rather than forcing a framework upon them, we promote learning while ensuring that they can use the software that helps them deliver the best quality.

Similarly, our developers sometimes take initiative by executing their tasks on software that we don't usually use for development. If they can showcase in their work, improvement in quality, or shorten the development cycle, then we ensure that their innovation is not only rewarded but implemented on a wider scale.

The workspace culture we strive for is all about organic innovation through our teams. Our resources understand that if there is room for improvement, they can take that step individually and then help others in the team do the same.

This emphasizes teamwork and collaboration within our unit. Through this, we aim to foster a healthy work environment that revolves around improving ourselves and those around us.

Marketing

Probably the place where you could see the biggest impact of employee empowerment is your marketing department, because these are your employees who thrive the most on innovation and empowered decision-making autonomy. By granting your marketing team more autonomy, they can come up with ground-breaking strategies for your company.

Having autonomy also incentivizes them to come up with newer, better strategies rather than repeating the same old strategies that they have used in their last job or what they see others doing.

A chief marketing officer cannot be the only individual focused on innovation; the culture of innovation needs to trickle down to your social media handlers, brand executives and content creators.

Empowerment helps businesses grow their presence, enhance their market recognition and in return, attract a larger share of the market to engage with them.

Customer support

According to Neil Patel, 71% of consumers ended a relationship with their business of choice due to poor customer service.

Often, customer service representatives showcase powerlessness to consumers when they say things like "I'll discuss it with the manager," or "I'll see what I can do about this and get back to you."

This happens because of a lack of empowerment. These employees are too scared to decide without consulting their manager. This is a by-product of a workplace culture directed by fear, because they aren't empowered by their managers to make the call on the spot.

From a consumer's perspective, it appears that they are talking to someone who can't help them solve their problem. As a business, this is a grave mistake.

Businesses can lose a lot of potential revenue due to the inability of their customer service teams to provide immediate relief to the clients they are communicating with. In an alternate reality where they are empowered, they can rectify the error.

Imagine if you ordered food from a restaurant and received the wrong order. You call the server over, explain the issue, and the waiter asks you to wait another 15 minutes before offering you a solution.

Ask yourself, "In case of a mishap, how do I want my consumers to feel when they reach out to the support team?"

Employee empowerment can help you ensure that consumers are promptly served and remain satisfied with your service.

What can go wrong if you're not careful about employee empowerment

Until now, we've only discussed the things that can go right if your employees are empowered with the right message. But what if the message you're trying to send is unclear?

The biggest potential issue that could occur with efforts to empower employees is the cultivation of a mindset wherein employees believe that the upper management is shirking their responsibility.

If employees are making the decisions, what is the senior management doing? But this problem is also easily solvable. Communication is key. For junior employees, you must maintain a level of transparency with them. They should know at least superficially what their managers are doing, what they are trying to achieve and what their role is in helping the company achieve its goals.

This improves the company culture, promotes a healthy working environment that is based on transparency, and keeps your employees well-motivated to get their work done in the best way possible.

Nurture a culture of forgiveness and accommodation

Let's talk about the active measures managers and business owners can take to ensure that their employees feel empowered and take ownership of innovation.

  1. Providing employees with the tools and services they need to get the job done is essential. Spending money on your employees should never be a pain point for you as a business owner. At Tekrevol, some of our employees had problems with work-related burnout. What we did was pinpoint a common interest between the employees. In this case, it was chess. We purchased got an in-house chessboard that helps our team unwind when they're feeling work-related burnout. This also holds for more technical things such as purchasing tools or software that can help streamline processes. At the end of the day, these resources are your assets, and accommodating them needs to be a business priority.

  2. Be open to your employees participating in decision-making conversations. This helps them not only understand the company's vision, but it helps them align themselves with it. Moreover, as frontline resources, their insights can help C-level executives remain in touch with what is happening on the ground and make better decisions while making sure employees feel that their opinions matter. Healthy discourse is vital for an excellent workspace culture.

  3. A culture of forgiveness is a key factor. When you give employees autonomy, they are bound to make mistakes or make decisions you don't necessarily agree with. How you respond to that matters. Excusing mishaps can be a great way to encourage your employees to keep trying new things as opposed to clamping down on mistakes or micromanage their tasks. Such behavior pushes them in their shells and creates a mechanical workforce. Employees don't like to be handcuffed, so even when they make mistakes, you can guide them without aiming for retribution. Only through a culture of forgiveness can a company truly empower employees on a long-term basis, which exhibits to your resources that they too have a stake in the company's future.

  4. Conduct a session with your senior managers and train them to identify social cues. If you're unaware of them, the internet itself is a great resource to learn how to identify these behavioral cues to understand how your resources are feeling. Alternatively, hire a coach who can help you decipher people's general mindset to understand how your company culture is affecting your resources. If they are feeling burdened but are too afraid to say it, reduce that burden. But you can only do so if you understand that in the first place. Work on your ability to read people and accommodate them to ensure their productivity is not negatively impacted. 

Survey your company to see if it can benefit from employee empowerment

For some companies, employee empowerment is already present organically. For others, it might be more mechanical, and adherence to a strict chain-of-command is the standard operating procedure.

As a CEO or business owner, it's a great strategy to connect with your resources by having a casual conversation with them to assess their mood and mindset with regards to their work.

Once you have the right information about the workplace culture of your company, then you can use the strategies mentioned above to empower your resources, improve that culture, and, in some instances, increase your revenue through better quality services and products.

As the co-founder of Tekrevol, a specialized group that delivers creative tech solutions, and an avid business strategist, Abeer has a knack for putting himself in win-win situations. With a sharp eye for untapped opportunities, he is able to develop and implement business strategies that deliver accelerated growth and augmented returns. Abeer has supported numerous entrepreneurs. He understands how to build businesses and brands that project success and quality, from conception to completion. Being a people-oriented person, he uses his problem-solving abilities to take initiatives that create a meaningful impact. He spends his spare time motivating and cultivating leaders of tomorrow, volunteering for the social cause and dominating chess.
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