Gone are the 1950s ways of working when the boss wielded all the decision-making power and the staff were merely subservient to the whims of management.
That hierarchical style may have worked for many businesses, and, whilst many still rely on that business model, thinking has moved on. Empowering your employees has been shown to be beneficial to businesses in many ways.
What is empowerment?
Think of employee empowerment as pretty much the opposite of micro-management. Empowering your employees means handing authority to them to undertake their roles as they determine best. It involves giving them the responsibility and autonomy to manage their own jobs, set their own objectives and make decisions about tasks, priorities and deadlines.
How do you go about empowering your employees?
To bring about employee empowerment, you need to share your top-level vision – that’s the mission, objectives and strategy for the organisation. This helps employees to understand how their roles contribute to the overall success of the business.
Then you have to maintain this level of involvement, regularly engaging with employees to communicate strategy and plans, so that you are all pulling in the same direction.
To be successful, empowerment requires that managers trust their staff; trust that they will make the right decisions and that they will be effective in achieving their goals.
Trusting this decision-making further involves managers to provide sufficient information to employees. It’s not just the top-level strategic direction that needs to be shared, but also financial and business reports, budgets, human resources information, marketing messaging, and so on.
Managers need to provide feedback so that employees can assess their own impact and address any issues or adjust future plans. And if staff are succeeding and working effectively, then reward and recognition for their achievements should be readily forthcoming.
What are the benefits of employee empowerment?
When people are self-determining and self-managing at work, they have a greater sense of job satisfaction. With this comes increased motivation and drive to do a great job. So staff are more effective in their roles and more productive; not to mention happier.
Greater autonomy also stimulates creativity and helps generate ideas, bringing more innovation to the business. This fuels the development of new products and services, or enhances business processes, all of which helps drive business success.
Empowerment can bring greater customer satisfaction too, especially where customer-facing employees have the authority to make decisions. We’ve all seen those documentaries where the boss goes undercover and discovers that there’s a level of dissatisfaction that is affecting customer service. Typically senior management is quite removed from the end customer – especially in larger businesses - and unless management can get close to customers, then staff dissatisfaction at the coal face can be missed. But by feeling empowered, staff would be self-managing and have the authority to address customer issues directly or to manage themselves so that customer service is a priority.
When staff try out new ideas and perhaps test new skills, then they grow and develop. They learn, improve themselves and become more proficient. In turn, this makes them happier, more enthusiastic and better prepared to face the obstacles and challenges they face.
Are there any drawbacks to employee empowerment?
If it’s not already inherent within your organisation, empowerment is something that needs quite a shift in culture to implement. It also requires significant investment in time from the leadership team to introduce such a radically different way of working.
In addition, there are those employees that can have a tendency to be lazy. And perhaps for these, the worry might be that allowing them to be fully responsible for their own roles might give them the leeway to do very little. Of course, even with empowerment, there needs to be some level of accountability, but some vigilance may be required to identify and head off any slack behaviour.
At the other end of the scale are the go-getter employees who have a very entrepreneurial spirit. The danger with these kinds of employees is that they are more likely to take risks, and to take bigger risks. Without supervision, employees taking those chances could lead the company down uncertain and unwelcome paths. Again, effective management is needed here. Mistakes do need to be identified and discussed, but they also need to be forgiven. Otherwise, you’re back to the hierarchical “boss” situation. And blaming or punishing staff when they get it wrong makes them feel less empowered – surely, they think, it was my mistake to make?
How to determine if employee empowerment is right for you
Each company leader will have their own take on whether or not empowerment is the right style of management for their business. If you want to empower your staff, but aren’t sure, you could start with allowing autonomy over some lesser aspects of their roles. For example, you could give them control over their own workspaces, or have them determine their own team structures, or involve them in recruitment decisions.
Simply giving employees a degree of choice will fire up their motivation and performance. If you get employee empowerment right, you will find that empowered staff are happier, more productive and will contribute more to the business.
Author: Melissa Jones
Mel is the Content Manager at breatheHR. She regularly contributes insights into the current small business climate with a focus on how HR is crucial to the success and growth of UK startups.