Are your employees able to make their own decisions about how they work? The answer to this question may have deeper implications than you think. One study surveyed 1,168 employees from 31 different foundations and found that “foundation staff members are most satisfied in their jobs when they feel empowered in their day-to-day experiences at work.” At Pepperdine University , researchers compared the performance of 40 of the most empowered companies across more than a dozen categories to S&P 500 averages, and they found there was a clear correlation between empowerment and financial success.
Employee empowerment benefits employees and customers alike. If an empowered frontline employee encounters a challenging customer service situation, they can offer an unsatisfied customer a perk or discount without needing permission. That might be why a Gallup study found “that organizations that empower employees experience 50% higher customer loyalty.”
Empowered employees can also find creative, efficient ways to solve problems that might be outside of your standard processes. However, encouraging empowerment necessarily means ceding some control. Even if you really believe in giving your employees the power to make their own choices, it might be a little difficult to put into practice at first.
To get you started, here are 18 ways you can bring employee empowerment into your office.
1. Let your employees in on your company’s vision
Now more than ever, employees want to feel like they’re helping to build something bigger than themselves. When you let them in on the overall vision for the company, and communicate how they’re helping to bring it to life, your teams will have a bigger sense of purpose, making them more loyal and empowered going forward.
2. Clearly define your expectations and boundaries
Despite what you might think, boundaries won’t imprison your team–it will give them the freedom to act within pre-approved parameters. For instance, telling an account manager that they have an approval-free access to a new business budget, in order to win over potential clients, might empower them to go the extra mile. They could avoid an inefficient approval process and impress leads while they’re considering your business.
Micromanaging is never an asset to a competent team, but by clearly defining your long- and short-term expectations, and communicating boundaries within which they’re free to work, you’ll be effectively giving your staff permission to act while simultaneously ensuring that the decisions they make will lie within your strategic priorities.
3. Take time giving feedback
Detailed feedback helps employees grow and develop their skills. While a simple “nice work!” might make someone feel good momentarily, well-thought out tips for improvement will give employees more to think about. By giving yourself time to think about how to communicate criticism, you will be more considerate of their feelings as well.
4. Reward hard work
Every employee gets a paycheck, but active, innovative employees do it for more than the money. Whatever their accomplishments–whether it’s staying late to complete a report before a long weekend or just a great client interaction–showing them that you appreciate them will encourage continued quality work, as well as make for contented employees.
5. Delegate to demonstrate trust
Taking work off your plate and handing it down to your employees is frequently necessary, but merely handing down tasks that you consider to be busy work or a waste of your time can do more harm than good in the long term. Instead of delegating tasks just to get rid of work, look at it an an opportunity to empower your staff. Ask someone to run a meeting, or occasionally share high-profile projects whose completion will bring your team some well-earned recognition.
6. Give employees permission to act
Delegating responsibility also means acknowledging that an employee’s path to a goal may differ from your own. Instead of micromanaging (a real pattern here, you’ll notice), choose to let go. Define the end result you’re after, not the means of accomplishing it. A staff that feels that they have your trust will feel more confident, proud, and loyal.
7. Be there for your employees
Employee empowerment is a process. Don’t expect to hand down real responsibility and still not get questions about how to handle it. Be available to talk, and provide the necessary resources to accomplish the tasks at hand. Tools can be technology, time, or even training. Your staff can’t do their jobs if they don’t have the requisite training, so be sure you’ve got a network in place to help them get it. Once employees have what they need to work effectively, make it clear that you want them to work out any problems on their own, to the best of their abilities. They’ll learn to trust themselves and slowly begin saving the trips to your desk for bigger issues.
8. Don’t shy away from small talk
Whether it’s in the break room or after work over a beer, allocate time to relax a little with your employees and make conversation. Talk about the projects they’re working on, but show that you care about their personal lives as well. These friendly interactions can lighten the mood in the office, and make a positive difference in your company culture. Employees will feel respected and appreciated as people, and not just a means to an end for the business.
9. Promote individual improvement
No matter how small the scale, when employees grow, your company does, too. Continuing education, training in new technology, or even joining a Crossfit class can create real value for your organization over time. Though, pressuring employees to take on outside-of-work activities means that you’re extending their work-related obligations. Allocate financial resources to encourage these activities. If that’s not possible, find some scheduling flexibility to allow them to devote more time to their personal and professional growth outside of the office.
10. Acknowledge mistakes, but move on quickly
A company that doesn’t make mistakes isn’t trying hard enough. By punishing mistakes instead of encouraging them, you can create conservative employees who feel too boxed-in to ever really contribute in a big way. Communicate the difference between what you consider to be acceptable mistakes and those that can cause more harm. Just as in goal- and boundary-setting, this can be the difference between a staff that feels limited and impotent and an empowered team working hard and at their full potential.
11. Establish meaningful ways to measure your performance
Establishing KPI’s that measure things like morale and employee engagement can help with improving employee retention going forward. Show your employees that their satisfaction matters, and that you are measuring their happiness as seriously as you would measure a customer’s.
12. Allow employees to think for themselves
A “my way or the highway” approach will not only have your most talented employees heading for the hills; it will also deprive your company of great input. Encouraging your team to share their ideas will not only save you from having to solve every problem yourself, but will probably lead to better, more creative solutions. This creativity doesn’t need to just be directed upward, either: networking between departments means greater collaboration and quicker project development.
13. Set irresistible-to-meet goals
As mentioned earlier, employees want to feel like they are part of a grander vision for the company. Goals are the bridge between a company’s vision, and an employees day-to-tasks. Even if an employee has a valuable, but tedious position, working toward a goal can build some excitement into their day. But make sure that the goals you set, both on an individual and a company-wide scale, are achievable. Employees who constantly feel like they’re falling just short of expectations are not only at a higher risk of burning out, but may also start feeling like they may be more effective elsewhere.
14. Let your team lead
Don’t shut your employees out of high-level decisions. Their on-the-ground experience developing product and interacting with customers could be beneficial in sparking new ideas and initiatives. Their feedback and ideas could be the seed of your next big groundbreaking project.
15. Make sure employees take time off
Well-rested employees deliver better results than those who don’t get as many opportunities to reset their batteries. Learn to identify burnout before it happens, and let employees know that they have your full support when it comes to taking vacation time. Whether your organization’s schedule allows for long holidays or just long weekends, leadership that encourages a healthier work/life balance will garner loyalty and enhanced productivity overall.
16. Take a 360° view of employee performance
360 reviews provide employees and managers with greater feedback and thus greater growth opportunities. Isolation builds resentment. Instead, encourage two-way dialogue between leaders and team members so that finding the root of mistakes, locating opportunities for development, and celebrating successes are all shared experiences.
17. Don’t be a helicopter boss
Working under a micromanaging boss is one of the most frustrating experiences an employee can have. It dissolves trust between employees and managers, and it makes employees feel like they are powerless in bringing positive change to their projects. A staff that feels smothered won’t operate at their highest efficiency, as they’ll feel like they have to carefully self-police to avoid getting scolded by their managers. Instead, build your employees’ trust in you by showing them that it’s a two-way street.
18. Deserve their trust
Being an effective leader in good times is fairly easy. Being there for your employees when things are tough is much more difficult, but more rewarding in the long run. Far too many companies engage in trust-eroding tactics like laying off the lowest-performing 15% of their staff every year, or punishing those who underperform by limiting development opportunities and other non-financial rewards the following year.
Hiring employees you don’t intend to support through tough times is a surefire way to show your entire workforce that they don’t matter as much as they thought they did. Loyalty goes both ways, so make sure you’re holding up your end.
Do your employees feel empowered to perform at their peak? What other tips and experiences do you have with this topic? Let us know in the comments!