Businesses will not keep pace with the speed of change if they expect all decisions to go up to the top of the hierarchy before action is taken. Agility is key to competitiveness, which means that decisions need to be made at the appropriate level, and that requires a workforce that knows they are empowered to act. Employee empowerment, is more than just a business buzzword, in organisations, it is becoming a necessity rather than a ‘nice to have’. It is fundamentally about delegating greater responsibility and decision making to employees, telling them what they need to do to meet organisational goals without telling them how they need to do it and monitoring them in the process.
A more empowered workforce can increase motivation and subsequently performance, productivity and potentially profitability. Other forces such as the digital revolution, the ever-growing millennial workforce and the globalisation of teams all reinforce the case for empowerment.
Workplaces are responding to this with a more flexible approach to work hours, responsibilities and locations. Of course, there is a catch, although not endemic, in society today there are those who want as much as they can get for minimum effort. These sorts of behaviours are detrimental to the fostering of a truly empowered workforce. So what key features can help promote the benefits and decrease the drawbacks.
Leadership: There are many quotes that the best leaders are those who surround them by the best people, by doing so that frees them up to spend more time on strategic priorities by trusting their team to get things done and welcoming any ideas and suggestions they have. Just as constant micro-management will limit employee ability to think for themselves, involving employees in decision-making, and listening to feedback and suggestions will help them recognise they play a part in achieving the organisation vision, strategy, goals.
Thanks and recognition: When promotion, compensation and recognition are linked to performance people are more empowered to do the right thing and encouraged to learn and grow. Even a simple ‘thank you’ can be highly effective in boosting motivation and morale as well as indicating what you want to see more of. On the other side of that, is recognising that by giving people power there is the risk that mistakes will be made and these should be treated as learning opportunities rather than punished, which will inhibit decision-making and hinder creativity.
Training/Coaching: Ongoing learning and education empowers us not only in the workplace but also in life. Providing technical, soft skills and management training gives people the knowledge and skills needed to do a job and also increases confidence naturally leading to a greater sense of empowerment. This coupled with ongoing coaching or mentoring, whereby employees receive positive reinforcement and feedback, will help develop their decision-making ability.
Successfully fostering the culture of empowerment is a two-way street of trust, holding others and ourselves accountable, and respecting the boundaries in place. It is up to leaders and employees alike to believe it can work and behave in a way that merits empowerment.