Empowering is another one of those business terms that is misused in the business world. In talking with managers, many of them have said to me, “I empowered my people by telling them to do x.” Often times when a manager tells an employee what to do, the employee is waiting for the how to do it. Just because you have communicated that people are empowered does not mean you are getting the true benefits of empowerment.
My definition of empowerment is laying out the vision and goals of the company and then leaving the “what” to work on and the “how” to work on it up to the employee. I have found three significant benefits to this approach; identifying future leaders of the company, challenging the current process and directions of the company and creating an amazing work environment.
There is no better interviewing tool for future leaders in a company than seeing what results they deliver in an empowered environment. There are three types of employees. On one end, there are employees that will only execute what has been specifically laid out. On the other end, there is an employee that will take the initiative and put together an amazing work product with very little to no guidance. They will find a way to get the work done and overcome obstacles. The final type of employee is somewhere in the middle. They will take the initiative but somewhere along the way, they will ask for a lot of support and/or need assistance in knocking down obstacles. Employees that can take the initiative and see it through to completion are worth their weight in gold. As an entrepreneur, it is very important to have employees that will be able to delivery great work product completely on their own. This is the essence for building a great company by having your 10 employees acting like 100.
Talented empowered employees do an excellent job at always challenging the status quo of a business or a business model in a very healthy way. These folks have a unique way of looking at the business because they are the ones touching the customer either internal or external. They are the ones to respond to not how things are supposed to work but truly how they are working in the trenches. To maximize these employees requires a very open entrepreneur or senior management team. Be open minded to the reality of your business and not how things were laid out in the corporate powerpoint presentation.
Finally, true empowerment creates an amazing work environment. It creates a culture based on results and execution instead of other non-company building traits like tenure, past experience, education or age. People’s feelings get hurt all the time when they miss out on a promotion. I can assure you the pain is much less when the person that got promoted was the one that created several new processes that everyone in the company now uses versus given to the employee that has been doing the job the longest. Eventually the stakes will be raised where everyone knows what they need to do in order to get the promotion.
Next time you are about to utter the words, “I am empowering you to do…” Stop for a moment and ask a more general question like, “I am always looking for ideas that can help us make this company better.” You will be surprised at the ideas and initiatives that will ensue.