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How to Empower Others in the Workplace
What is Empowerment?
To empower someone means that you share some of your power with them. You give them the ability to make decisions on their own and take responsibility for their own tasks. Empowerment has become a popular leadership tool in over the past few decades as it has the potential to improve worker satisfaction, creativity, product quality, and production. Empowered workers tend to have more motivation because they are given ownership in their work or project.
Giving away power always comes with some amount of risk. After all, is it not possible that a worker could abuse his decision making power and bring damage to the leader and team? Could a worker be setup to fail because of a lack of skill or job related knowledge? These scenarios are possible, which is why effective leaders must consider the situation before choosing to empower. In addition, the way in which a leader empowers others can effect the success of followers.
In this hub, I will give some of examples of empowerment and how it can be used in various situations.
Changing Company Policies
It is common for a company to have a lot of policies and rules for their employees and their operations. Sometimes these rules can be so strict that they restrict creatively and left employees feeling trapped. One way to empower employees is to make policy changes so employees have more freedom. One simple example is dress code. Rather than telling all employees what they must wear to work with specific detail, allow them to choose what they will wear, while providing general guidelines and expectations. In the 1960s, most American office buildings were filled with men wearing white shirts and black ties. Today, most office workers dress in quite a variety of business attire and at many companies Friday is a casual day, meaning the workers can dress more informally.
Consider another policy. such as the start and end times for employee work days. While some business operations necessitate a 9am-5pm schedule, there may be jobs where standard employee work hours are not as important. If this is the case, then leaders could allow employees to set their own schedule. Employees could be given the freedom to go to and from work at a time which is best for them and their families. This would allow employees to work during a time when they are most productive. Naturally, if a leader empowers employees in this way, he must have trust in them, but also provide them accountability so they are not temped to cutback on their work.
Give Projects Rather than Tasks
A micro-manager will give his employees small tasks and constantly monitor their work. A leader who empowers will give his employees projects where they have control over their own work and process. For example, consider a sales team where salesmen and women must memorize a sales pitch and recite a exact phrase to a customer or potential customer. The customer's response will dictate the salesman's follow-up from a set of preset options. And the conversation will continue to play out with the salesman giving canned (repeated) statements.
Think about this. The salesman has been given nothing but tasks. He has no liberty (freedom) to edit or modify, if he sees a need. He must complete each task at one-at-a-time, exactly as he has been instructed. In some ways this is safe, because there is less risk of a salesperson lying or giving bad information. However, consider the motivation of the worker and the quality of his sales presentation. He probably has very low motivation because even if he makes a sale, it wasn't really his doing, but the work of whoever designed the statements. He cannot take responsibility for a completed project, because he is only given little tasks.
Instead of giving lots of little tasks, an empowering leader will give his salesman a project. He may say, "I want you to sell at least 50 units to customers in market A by Wednesday." The salesman has been given a goal and some parameters, but he now has control within his project. He can determine when, where, and how he sells his 50 units. He is likely to have more motivation and the quality of his work will improve. The leader may also provide incentives for the salesman such as a commission on sales or rewards for achieving higher goals.
Customer Service Decisions
Have you ever tried to ask a question a business and have an employee respond, "let me get my manager"? What he or she means is that they do not have the authority to answer your question and they must find someone in a higher position to respond. Unfortunately, for the customer this takes time and can be very annoying. Even if they customer gets a favorable reply they may still be unsatisfied and stop patronizing the business.
To prevent this type of fallout, leaders can empower their customer service employees to make decisions when serving customers. For example, consider a restaurant which serves many different dishes. If a customer wanted to make a modification in their meal, their server would be able to determine whether or not the customer could make the change and whether or not there would be an additional charge. If the customer was unhappy with their meal, the server could make the decision to give them a different meal or present them with a coupon for a free meal on another visit. If the customer was really upset, the server could even discount their cost or allow them to have the meal free of charge.
The risk to restaurant owners is that employees could "give away" too much food, or make it harder for the kitchen. However, with proper training, restaurants and other service companies can greatly improve their customer service by empowering their "front-line" workers.
Here are few more articles on empowerment and leadership: