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Employee empowerment is a subject many managers aspire to do, but are still perplexed by the idea of it. What does employee empowerment really mean, anyways? And moreover, do you have what it takes to successfully empower your workforce?

You will be happy to know that transforming this buzzword into reality is not as difficult as you might think. Here are some things that will help clear up the true significance behind employee empowerment.

 

What is employee empowerment?

In an attempt to be as concise as possible, employee empowerment is the process of giving employees a certain amount of independence and responsibility to analyse, control and make decisions with regards to specific tasks. It means motivating and enabling employees to think for themselves and have unique views on certain projects or issues, as well as allow for a degree of autonomy so they can take initiative and ownership.

Now that we have the basics outlined, how does this concept of employee empowerment transpose into tangible behaviour?

 

Employee empowerment: capable decision-makers

Employee empowerment is seeing employees (at lower hierarchical levels) as valuable contributors to tasks/projects, and being aware that they can offer an interesting (and even different) angle on a situation.

For example, if an employee is in direct contact with customers, and sees first-hand how the organization’s product or services are tangibly meeting their needs, they may have valuable knowledge of what’s working and what’s not on the field. They already have these perspectives, experiences and knowledge: it’s up to the manager to recognize them and allow them to come out.

 

Employee empowerment requires time

If you are looking to properly empower employees, you need to have time to invest in their growth. This means systematically making the time to share organizational vision, involving them in defining measurable and observable goals, and keeping them up-to-date with information that will help them build a global vision on projects and do things on their own.

Implicating employees means being open to their suggestions, ideas and even creating a learning environment that encourages this contribution.

Yes, managers may be busy dealing with upper level commitments and global strategies, but in order to successfully embark on employee empowerment, they will need to allow an employee to accompany them at times, share information, and be ready for a lot of dialogue with this person, who they deem has potential.

Remember that not every employee in your organization will be willing and able to benefit from an employee empowerment process, therefore invest your time wisely on those that have the potential and capacity to handle such autonomy and responsibility.

 

Employee empowerment is about trust

A manager will need to trust the employee’s potential to think on his/her own and make decisions that will benefit the organization as a whole. If you have the tendency to micromanage, you may not find it easy to give away some of that control or rely on an employee to do it himself.

Lacking trust may unconsciously prevent a manager from providing the necessary tools for employee empowerment. This can be a reluctance to share organizational visions, not leaving enough space for an employee to come up with his/her own solutions, or continuous prying.

Remember that employee empowerment is not an “all or nothing” type of development. You can choose what types of tasks or projects an employee will be trusted to act more autonomously on, and which ones they will need your input or authorization. Nevertheless trust is a huge factor, and if you have difficulty trusting others and letting go of detailed control, you may want to evaluate your own ability to provide proper employee empowerment.

 

Employee empowerment is about communication

I’m sure you’ve heard it time and time again: communication is the key to any success. And without sounding repetitive, it is definitely an important factor for employee empowerment. In fact, without clear and regular communication, an employee may never be equipped to open his/her wings and fly.

There is also this notion that “knowledge is power”, but knowledge needs to be communicated first and foremost. An employee is empowered when he is able to obtain valuable knowledge about the business on many different levels, and in return, he must have the opportunity to share his knowledge through bilateral communication with a manager.

 

Know the difference between responsibility and accountability

Employee empowerment is about understanding the difference between responsibility and accountability. Responsibility is something that can be given to numerous people and before a task is even completed. Accountability happens once a task has been accomplished.

For example, an employee is responsible for providing a weekly sales report every Friday for a sales meeting. If the report fails to get accomplished properly, who is held accountable? The employee? The manager? Chances are, if the manager did not provide enough guidance or failed to communicate clear expectations, then the manager should be held accountable.

Employee empowerment can go wrong when a manager holds the “empowered” employee accountable for a task, but did not provide clear direction, proper tools, or enough knowledge for him to do it as effectively and accurately as possible. It is important to understand the differences.

As a manager, are you prepared to answer for the actions of your employee? It is important to set clear expectations and determine who is responsible and accountable for each task. Then of course, you need to communicate this to your employees!

 

Employee empowerment is individual-specific

Your employees are unique, each with their own strengths and potential. There is no “one size fits all” approach to employee empowerment because people are empowered in different ways.

And to save you time, not all employees are motivated for more autonomy and decision-making. By understanding the leadership abilities of your workforce, those who are stimulated by taking on risks and challenges, or those who naturally have a need for more power and control, you can then pinpoint those who will benefit the most from employee empowerment.

Remember that some employees may want to maintain their role as a follower, or “second-in-line”. Not everyone is motivated by more independence, and that’s ok. They are also essential to the organization.

 

Fears behind employee empowerment

Both managers and employees may fear certain aspects of employee empowerment. For instance, managers might be afraid of losing control of a situation by allowing an employee more power and autonomy. If they are sceptical by nature, they might fear trusting another person or delegating tasks.

On the other side, employees might fear putting their final decisions on the line and being held responsible for projects. They might be apprehensive about stepping outside authority and taking the lead, for fear of failure.

These fears must be communicated and clarified in order for both parties to fully benefit from employee empowerment. Remember that it is a growth PROCESS! Look at each mistake as an opportunity to grow and learn, and do not thrive for perfection.

 
Employee empowerment is all about trust, time, communication and recognizing the potential of employees that are not currently in a decision-making role. It’s not just about believing in another person’s ability to take charge of a task, but to provide information and proper direction for him/her to be successful. Understand that not all employees are motivated by such autonomy and power, and use tools that will detect their true potential and motivations. Remember to re-assess and be open with your fears, but don’t let it get in your way.

Why don’t you determine who’s best for your employee empowerment process?!

Christine Chartrand

Holding a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from Yorkville University, Christine Chartrand also obtained her bachelor's degree in human relations, with a minor in psychology. She acquired an excellent understanding of psychometric assessment and methods of research, in addition to developing skills to support individuals in their personal and professional journey.

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