Google, Disney, and Four Seasons are all well known for empowering their employees. Four Seasons was even awarded Fortune’s 2017 “Great Place of Work Legend” as its employees named it employer-of-choice for the twentieth year in a row. The company has been recognized for going above and beyond to empower its employees.
As more and more leaders come to understand that employee empowerment is paramount to achieving organizational goals, they realize that people are their most strategic asset; all other organizational elements, technology, products, processes result from the actions of workers. To that end, leaders are increasingly concerned about ensuring that their employees feel truly empowered to contribute to the company’s mission and drive value to customers.
Empowering employees requires alignment between individual aspirations and organizational goals. It also calls for employee autonomy to make decisions and accountability for the results.
Recognize the Disconnect: The disconnect between leaders and their employees is more common than we think. 58% of non-management employees said that people do not act in accordance with their words. Only 37% of C-suite level executives agreed, according to a Katzenbach Center survey.
Leaders must come to understand employees’ expectations and the ways they want to be empowered. It is critical for leaders to create space for regular and consistent trust-building conversations. These discussions will help leaders get comfortable delegating responsibilities and enable employees to ask for help and advice and share their resulting success stories.
The Path Forward: Here are four themes’ leaders must consider as they strive to understand their subordinates’ needs and work with them to define the right path towards empowerment:
Your employees’ values might differ from yours: Leaders often take for granted the fact that all employees aspire to do more and are open to new opportunities. Don’t make assumptions. Leaders need to understand how employees feel about their current scope of responsibilities and what their aspirations are, rather than assume they want nothing changed.
Leaders and employees need to engage in a genuine two-way conversation about the company’s performance and focus. The more employees are given room to lead this part of the exercise, the more engaged and transparent they will be likely to be with each other.
Your employees’ skill sets may not be on par with competences required for the job: Managers have the responsibility to assess whether their employees are ready for a new role or position. Assessing readiness may not be a straightforward endeavor, so it would take consistent engagement with employees. Regular conversation also allows managers and employees to align early on what success looks like and next steps.
Your employee may not be fully aware of your intentions: Leaders need to ask themselves: What is the likely outcome? What’s the worst that can happen if I let go and they succeed? What additional support can I offer? Be articulate when authorizing your staff to make decisions for their own safety and well-being.
A change in authority can be perceived as a big shift for the employee. When employees are given authorization to drive their work, they feel trusted and inspired to invite others to problem-solve.
Your employee’s decisions may differ from yours, but it does not mean they’re bad: Respect the authority that you’ve given out and reward positive outcomes. Leaders can ask: What particular conditions have led to the decision? To what extent will the decision likely impact the final outcomes? What’s there to learn? This is the time to reward employees for their success with acknowledgement, incentives, and the like.
Go Slow to Go Fast: Imagine a culture of empowerment, in which people in the organization are taking action toward a collective goal, testing, learning, and improving as they go. Leaders have to be resolute about their desire to foster an empowered organization and their commitment to invest the necessary time and energy to make it work.
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