Research into the employment market – and let’s face it, there has been a lot of that over the past two years – consistently shows that employees who feel empowered at work are on the whole more likely to perform their job well, be satisfied at work and feel trust and loyalty towards their employer. Here, Director of Employment, Lucy Flynn, discusses the effective empowerment of employees; where to start, what makes an empowered employee, and the role that communication and personality plays.
Employee empowerment is based on the belief that employees are capable and able, can perform their job, and therefore are trusted to do so. Empowering employees can take several forms, but in general means providing a support structure and adopting a management style which enables employees to act autonomously when performing their role and be held accountable for the decisions they make.
However, providing employees with additional responsibility and challenges at work can also lead to feelings of being overworked and stressed. As such, there is an important, but often difficult, balance to strike.
There is no fast route to effective employee empowerment, and what works for one organisation or industry may be entirely inappropriate for others. However, the lynch pin of any successful culture of empowerment is trust at all levels; trust in the culture of the organisation, trust in the managers seeking to implement a culture of empowerment and trust of the organisation and the managers in the empowered employees.
Where to start?
Investing in employee empowerment and engagement has been shown to improve employee retention and cement a culture of loyalty to the employer and its brand. However, with the best will in the world, if employees don’t want to be empowered, implementing an empowerment plan is simply not going to work.
As such, there has to be a commitment to a culture of empowerment at all levels of the organisation. If the idea is not well received, the business should take a step back and try to understand why. This could be for many reasons but it’s important to find out:
- Whether the organisation has been clear what empowerment would mean to the employees – do they understand what empowerment looks like for each individual, team, department and the company as a whole?
- The reasons employees are not keen to engage – do they already feel empowered enough, are they feeling overworked and disinclined to take on more responsibility, do they fear repercussions if they make a wrong decision?
What is an empowered employee?
Employee empowerment is a culture where employees are trusted to use their power to:
- Use their voice and authority with confidence
- Make decisions appropriate to their skills and role
- Be accountable and responsible for those decisions
It’s not just about delegating the odd piece of work; it’s about moving away from micro-management and moving towards trusting employees to perform the tasks they are employed to do.
This being said, it’s also not about stepping away from hierarchy or structure; it’s about adopting a framework within which employees are given clear guidelines and proper support to “own” their decisions in set boundaries.
Pushing appropriate decision-making down the chain of command can not only allow the employee to thrive and improve, it can also free up management time and increase productivity.
For effective empowerment, and in order to make successful decisions, employees must:
- have the right skills and competencies
- understand what is being asked of them
Clarity of boundaries for decision making is key and employees must be sure what they are being asked to do, and the limits to this.
Once the boundaries are set and understood, the business needs to spend time training both:
- employees to ensure they have the technical skills to make the decisions being asked of them; and
- managers to ensure they are able to manage the team in a culture of trust and empowerment
Employees will make mistakes. But to build a successful culture of empowerment, the response to such mistakes – assuming they are made within the framework established for decision making – needs to be carefully managed and should focus on feedback and improvement rather than punishment. Rewarding effort, as well as success, can encourage employees to continue to strive for better and truly engage in the culture.
Furthermore, sharing information and data with employees – and by doing so showing trust and confidence in them – can not only give them the tools they need to make better decisions but can inspire them to input ideas into the business.
Communication and Personality
Many highly effective businesses recognise that they need good leaders at every level and leadership means different things depending on the person and the role – the most successful teams embrace a variety of skillsets, and with time and attention to the personalities within any team, it is usually possible to find the right place for everyone to thrive.
The key to creating successful employees who feel empowered is to listen and observe actively. Some people are great behind the scenes; others thrive on communication with people. Whatever the spread of skills, the most effective teams are built by understanding the particular talents of the team members, identifying strengths of those individuals and building upon these to get the best out of the person for the benefit of the team and the business as a whole.
Empowering employees is not about losing control, “passing the buck” or removing hierarchy; it is about creating a culture within which individuals can thrive and grow – both themselves and the business.
By Lucy Flynn