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Business Strategy: Empowering Your Employees

There are many theories about how a company can improve the productivity of its employees. One of the most important philosophies in this regard is empowerment. It is a simple idea: implement practices that will help your employees feel capable, confident and give them control over work results. When there is no excessive micromanagement or oversight, they feel empowered to work efficiently. One of the main benefits of employee empowerment is that your employees will develop commitment to their organization’s core vision and mission. In the long-term, it results in better productivity.

Research has shown that ‘best’ employees take ‘ownership’ of their work. They are allowed to give inputs on how they want to do their work and are thus are able to control the outcome. They are not only proud of what they do, their productivity is also better than that of their colleagues who are dis-empowered.

You cannot give empowerment, employees have to feel it

There is an important distinction that leaders often miss when it comes to empowerment. You cannot ’empower’ an individual to make decisions or become more accountable. People will empower themselves. You can only support and encourage them when they make decisions or give them the knowledge and the tools they need to decide and act on those decisions. By doing this, you are helping your people reach a state of empowerment.

The process can take time to yield results – employees will believe that they have been empowered only when you give them enough time to show results. If a company has historically shut down initiators or has let go of initiators, it cannot tell its employees that they are empowered.

According to a study by Kelton Research for Cornerstone OnDemand, employers have a lackadaisical attitude when it comes to empowering their employees. Often they do not share performance feedback, do not give them right training or provide them with insights into the objectives of the company. The study was conducted over a period of six months and here is what it revealed:

  • 68 percent of Americans (employed) said that their employers were not giving them useful feedback.
  • 82 percent had not sat down with their supervisors to set career goals.
  • 53 percent did not have a proper understanding of how their work was contributing to the objectives of their company.
  • 25 percent of those interviewed were fulfilling responsibilities in which they were not skilled.

Un-empowered employees operate in a slow and hierarchical structure that stifles decision making. It affects customer service and finally, the business’ success.

Before we discuss what you can do to empower your employees, it is a good idea to see what does not constitute empowerment.

  • Empowerment is not a right, rather it is a privilege. Employees should be empowered only when have shown that they are capable of doing work and they show proper initiative. However, the opportunity to gain empowerment is a right.
  • Employees do not always assume empowerment. When employees do not take initiative for their jobs, they will not feel empowered. Sometimes, you will have to tell them that they are empowered.
  • Empowerment is in the mind, it is not a bunch of empty slogans or motivational posters, only to be used as lip service, but not really followed.
  • Empowerment does not mean that the employee can do whatever he wants. There must be explicit boundaries and a strategic framework. Employees must know what decisions they can take without approval from the management.
  • Empowerment cannot be had by consensus. You are running a business, not a democracy.

Toyota and employee empowerment

Toyota is well-known for its innovative practices and high productivity. But how many know that the company has employee empowerment as the core of its management philosophy? The company believes that ’empowerment as intrinsic to development’ and encourages all its employees to take ownership in their work and the company. Employees at Toyota are encouraged to identify defects in quality and find ways to increase efficiency.

As a result, the company is now identified as a champion of quality. The dedication Toyota has shown towards employee empowerment and the improvement of quality has helped it become the third largest manufacturer of automobiles in the world.

Building an environment for employee empowerment

Here are a few tips on what you can do to empower your employees:

  • Delegate power – Give power to employees who have shown by their work that they have the capability to handle responsibility.
  • Create a conducive environment – Empowerment can happen only in a favorable environment. For instance, give your employees opportunities to grow skills.
  • Do not second guess – If an employee is making a decision or wants to work on an idea, do not second guess him, unless it is absolutely important. If you disregard this piece of advice, you will undermine your employees’ confidence and they may stop sharing ideas with you.
  • Give people autonomy and discretion over resources and their work.

Successful managers and leaders exercise a distinct type of leadership which empowers people in decision making, sharing information and trying new ideas. The good news is, most employees find value in empowerment and they are willing to take on the responsibilities that are part and parcel of empowerment. Employee empowerment is a sound business strategy and wonderful management philosophy, with unlimited potential.

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