Business Bites: Empowerment

Nick Walsh FBDO
ABDO head of corporate development

To be truly empowered, employees need to be involved in decision-making

If knowledge is power, surely empowerment is the sharing of knowledge with employees to enable advancement and improvement.

The Collins Dictionary definition of empowerment states: “The empowerment of a person or group of people is the process of giving them power and status in a particular situation”.

Empowerment is a topic that is often misunderstood and raises debate around its use. Why may leaders be resistant to empowering individuals? It may be through a lack of trust, an aversion to risk (even controlled risk), the need to micro-manage at every step, the need to control others or the fear of losing control. It is also possible that the person being empowered may be resistant to it due to a lack of trust in motives and consequences. Other factors that stop empowerment include a bureaucratic structure that is resistant to change, conflict amongst teams in an organisation, or personal time constraints.

What is empowerment?

Empowerment is allowing employees the autonomy to grow with your guidance. It is more than just giving people accountability for a delegated task, it involves giving people knowledge, power, skills, opportunities, self-confidence, authority and resources to be able to be accountable for a task. It involves reducing or removing powerlessness by releasing power through the sharing of accurate information, creation of autonomy, improving individuals’ feelings of competence and allowing contribution through meaningful work. To be truly empowered, employees need to be involved in decision-making to know that they influenced direction and goals – to feel ownership of the goals and therefore understand the value in delivering the goal.

Establishing employees’ expectations and aligning these expectations with those of the leader must also extend to:

  • Specifying desired results, but not the route to them
  • Clearly defining how results will be measured
  • Agreeing accountability for results delivery
  • Setting guidelines
  • Agreeing levels of help and support available and who from
  • Identification and provision the resources needed
  • Consequences, e.g. reward and recognition of competencies gained

Empowerment will involve risk-taking, the risk that mistakes may be made. It is important to acknowledge any failures, analyse them, and treat them as learnings for the future.

Supporting employees is key to empowerment, including training and development so that people can acquire the skills required to perform well. It is worth noting that people cannot perform well if they are not given opportunities to do so, and the required resources (people, time, finances, equipment) and freedom to make decisions. It gives opportunities for growth and enhancement at a personal level. In the workplace, empowerment will help to move the team culture towards one of innovation, creativity, challenge of the status quo, and accountability. Empowerment will be more effective at increasing an employee’s creativity than routine task performance.

How will individuals feel empowered?

  • They have a sense of meaning where they feel that their work is important, and they care about their work
  • They are confident about their abilities to carry out tasks (competence)
  • They believe that they can truly influence their work and that others will listen to their ideas
  • They do not feel micro-managed; they feel free to choose how work will be carried out

In his article, Trust the process: 13 tips to empower and encourage your staff, Chad Brookes states the following benefits of empowering your employees:

  • It holds employees accountable. When you allow employees to make their own decisions and take risks in the workplace, you are essentially investing in them. Your trust will hold them accountable for their actions, motivating them to work harder and smarter
  • It increases employee retention. Employees who feel appreciated and supported are more likely to be loyal to the company. This reduces your company’s employee turnover and inspires workers to perform at their best
  • It sparks job satisfaction. When an employee is free to take risks and perform at their own pace and to their own standards, they tend to be more satisfied. Employee satisfaction translates to a positive work culture
  • It improves customer service. When handling customers, employees often pause to check in with their managers on how to go about a specific request or resolve an issue. By empowering your employees to get the job done without waiting for your approval, you set your company up for better customer service
  • It allows individual growth. Empowered employees feel more confident and inspired to grow, which benefits not only their careers but also your company

Building trust

Another important part of managing in this way is participative leadership. When individuals come to you to discuss an issue, establish what they need from you and don’t make any assumptions. Is it:

  • For support?
  • For advice?
  • For information?
  • For a decision?

We’ve heard trust mentioned many times already and will look at how this important behaviour comes from a place of compassion and empathy. Kindness is not weakness. Empathy can be learned and monitored; it isn’t something that has to come naturally, and all can acquire this skill.

Building an environment of trust is the part of your company culture that, without it, the business may falter. Trust in the leadership, one another, and the path you’re all on together will determine how productive your teams will be. Simply put, if they don’t trust you, they most certainly won’t follow you – at least not wholeheartedly.

Empowerment requires the building of trust. Appropriate delegation can empower your team.

Next month in Business Bites, we will look at leadership.