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16 Top Principles of Employee Empowerment

Truly Empower Employees to Ensure Success and Progress

The Credo of an Empowering Manager:  “Don’t try to Manage People, Lead them.”

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Give them guidance (not direction) – Provide the Vision, Mission & Culture (Values), train them, facilitate their work, coordinate supplies, assets and interaction with entities outside their team; remove obstacles that hinder fulfilling the Strategic Plan.

“Employee Empowerment equals Engagement”

Your goal is to create a work environment in which people are empowered, productive, contributing, and content in their work… Don’t hobble them by limiting their tools or information. Trust them to do the right thing. Get out of their way and watch them catch fire.

The following are the 15 most important principles for managing people in a way that reinforces employee empowerment, accomplishment, and contribution. These management actions enable both the people who work with you and the people your team to soar.

1.   Demonstrate that You Value People

Your regard for people shines through in all of your actions and words. Your facial expression, your body language, and your words express what you are thinking about the people who report to you. Your goal is to demonstrate your appreciation for each person’s unique value. No matter how an employee is performing on his or her current task, your value for the employee as a human being should never falter and always be visible.

2.   Share Leadership Vision

Help people feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves and their individual job. Do this by making sure they know and have access to the organization’s overall mission, vision, and strategic plans.

3.   Share Goals, Guidelines and the Strategic Plan

Share the most important (and all the pertinent) goals and plan details for your group. Where possible, either make progress on goals measurable and observable, or ascertain that you have shared your picture of a positive outcome with the people responsible for accomplishing the results. If you share a picture and share meaning, you have agreed upon what constitutes a successful and acceptable deliverable. Empowered employees can then chart their course without close supervision.

4. Make the Goals Challenging and Hold Everyone Responsible for meeting the Company’s Strategic Goals

Empowerment isn’t focused on making everybody happy; that just tends to be one of the positive side-affects; it’s about getting everyone and all activities focused on achieving the Strategic Plan and Goals.

Note: Make sure that your goals include heavy Customer Focus, encourage creativity & innovation and reflect your Company’s vision & values.

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Locke, et al. (1981) examined the behavioral effects of goal-setting, concluding that 90% of laboratory and field studies involving specific and challenging goals led to higher performance than did easy or no goals.[1]

To elicit some specific form of behavior from others, it is important that this person has a clear view of what is expected from him/her. A goal is thereby of vital importance because it facilitates an individual in focusing their efforts in a specified direction. In other words, goals channel behavior (Cummings & Worley).

However, when goals are established at a management level and thereafter solely promulgated from the top, employee motivation with regard to achieving these goals is rather suppressed (Locke & Latham, 2002 p. 705).

To increase motivation, employees not only must be allowed to participate in the goal setting process, but the goals must be challenging as well (Cummings & Worley).

Along with giving employees a voice in setting the goals and planning the strategy, you also need to hold them accountable and responsible for meeting the stated goals.  You must develop and implement a viable measurement system and subsequent evaluation program. This is an important element in helping employees realize a sense of responsibility and accomplishment, which lead to higher job satisfaction.[2]

5.   Provide Relevant, Regular and Progressive Training

This is an essential requirement, not an optional element of empowerment.  This is one of the most neglected areas in small businesses and it does limit those companies’ growth and success.  Training is an investment, not simply a cost. All the most successful businesses of the 21st Century invest heavily in training because they have realized and measured the benefit.

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You must ensure that your employees are capable and competent in their trade / technical requirements, basic mathematics and reading skills, problem solving and process analysis, have reasonable communication skills and some level of business acumen. Yes, the company can carry a few individuals that are lacking in one or more of these areas, but they must be the exception not the norm. If your employees are truly empowered and committed to the team they will shore up team weaknesses and develop an effective balance that will achieve the desired results.

Effective training provides a Competitive Edge. Increased capabilities and knowledge growth tends to create synergy that improves the team’s competitive drive and strength. You gain a more productive and capable team that needs less supervision and that tends to be better motivated individually and as a team.  Further, when a company invests in an employee’s training and development they sense that they are valued.

6.   Trust People

Trust the intentions of people to do the right thing, make the right decision, and make choices that, while maybe not exactly what you would decide, still work. When employees receive clear expectations from their manager, they relax and trust you. They focus their energy on accomplishing, not on wondering, worrying, and second-guessing.

I however, believe in Ronald Regan’s philosophy, “Trust but verify.”  That means you have to measure performance results, share the statistics and meaningful analysis with your team and together plan the adjustments. I am also an avid advocate of employee empowerment, but if you give an employee the training, information, tools and authority to complete their work effectively, yet they don’t get with the program (meet the goals and help the team) — address the issues in a timely manner, provide real support to improve, rejoice if they do, but terminate them if they don’t. Be fair, but don’t waste time on people who don’t perform or don’t support the Company’s values and/or goals. The “rotten apple will spoil the barrel.”

7.   Provide Information for Decision Making

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Make certain that you have given your people, or made sure that they have access to, all of the information they need to make thoughtful decisions. It also helps people to understand how their work fits in to the bigger picture, especially within the company and in relation to customer requirements. This also positively affects job satisfaction.

Don’t forget to train team members regarding Decision Making Tools and concepts.

8.  Delegate Authority and Impact Opportunities, Not Just More Work

Don’t just delegate the drudge work; delegate some of the fun stuff, too. You know, delegate the important meetings, the committee memberships that influence product development and decision making, and the projects that people and customers notice. The employee will grow and develop new skills. Your plate will be less full so you can concentrate on contribution. Your staff will gratefully shine – and so will you.

9.   Provide Frequent Respectful Feedback

Provide frequent feedback so that people know how they are doing. Sometimes, the purpose of feedback is reward and recognition as well as improvement coaching. People deserve your constructive feedback, too, so they can continue to develop their knowledge and skills.

It is very important to recognize when someone submits an idea for improvement. You should acknowledge such a contribution publicly whenever practical to do so.  Share how the suggestion will be incorporated into policy or procedures and what the expected impact will be on improved performance.

If a suggestion is not practical to implement, or its implementation must be delayed for some reason, you must ensure that your respect the individual by praising them for their effort and explaining to them why the suggestion is not practical at that time. Every idea is important and must be respected.

10.   Solve Problems: Make it about the facts, not personalities

When a problem occurs, ask what is wrong with the work system that caused the people to fail, not what is wrong with the people. Don’t forget to train team members regarding effective Cause & Effect Analysis and other problem solving techniques. Worst case response to problems? – Seek to identify and punish the guilty. (Thank you, Dr. Deming.)

11.   Listen to Learn and Ask Questions to Provide Guidance

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Provide a space in which people will communicate by listening to them and asking them questions. Guide by asking questions, not by telling grown up people what to do. People generally know the right answers if they have the opportunity to produce them. When an employee brings you a problem to solve, ask, “What do you think you should do to solve this problem?” Or, ask, “What action steps do you recommend?” Employees can demonstrate what they know and grow in the process.

Eventually, you will feel comfortable telling the employee that he or she need not ask you about similar situations. You trust their judgment.

12.   Take the Time to work on Team Dynamics and Cohesion

Many companies pay “lip service” to “Teamwork,” but it’s only a “Paper Tiger.” Their program has no bite, no power. They don’t really believe in it; or they are too lazy to make it real. People are messy, and some executives just don’t have it in them to deal people issues.

But companies that do promote real empowerment and teamwork realize the tangible benefits – better profits.

13.   Develop & Implement a Formal Communication Plan

Effective communications does not happen by accident.

Communications is a support function

It’s important not to communicate for the sake of communicating. To be strategic, communications must by definition be aligned to support and propel the organization’s mandate and objectives.

Plan communications from the inside – out

Communications planning should always include consideration of employees as a key audience – staff can greatly contribute to communications efforts, excluding them from communications activities can be erosive to internal engagement and trust.

14.   Communication Best Practices

Set clear, measurable objectives.

7 Cs of Effective Communication

The single most important step to sound communications planning is carefully setting objectives. Crafting communications objectives is difficult – it may be the most challenging aspect of the planning process. Setting out clear objectives which define “what success looks like” is fundamental to strategic communications planning.

Take the time to be precise – do you want to engage employees in order to increase their job satisfaction? Or is it to improve retention rates?

Is the focus on establishing a reputation, or in building relationships? Once you’ve established your objectives, get them validated internally by all key stakeholders to ensure that you’re not wasting time developing a plan against objectives that may be off target.

Drive alignment.

When working on objectives, validate that the communications objectives are in alignment with the organizational objective.

Think about what your organization is trying to achieve first – then consider how communications can help you get there.

Set yourself up for success.

Sound strategic communications planning requires a strong foundation in preparation. Before embarking on any strategic planning exercise, make sure that you have the right information and insights to guide the process.

The other core dimension of preparatory work is consultation. Reach out and talk to the key internal & external sources as appropriate to ensure that you fully understand the risks and opportunities of your communications topic.

Focus on audiences.

Develop your strategic communications planning process through the lens of your audiences. This will ensure that your approaches are relevant and resonant – both in terms of messages and tactics. Adopting an audience-centric approach is critical to effective communications planning.

See messaging as your core product.

Consider that messaging is ultimately the core product of your strategic communications planning process. It’s not about all the “stuff” to get your messages out – fundamentally communication is about bringing your message to life. Invest the time to craft a powerful message architecture that is deliberately crafted through an audience-centric approach. Make a point of writing messages based on value that answer the question – “what’s in it for me?”

Design the tactical mix strategically.

Think strategically about your communications tactics. Consider what communications activities best meet your needs, based on your understanding of the strategic landscape, your audience profile and your message.

For more detail see our White Paper: Best Practices in Strategic Communications Planning

15.   Measure & Analyze Team & Individual Performance, as well as Key Processes

This relates directly to Principle 9 – Provide Frequent Respectful Feedback.

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In order to provide meaningful feedback you need to conduct viable measurements and analysis of Company, team and individual performance.

Measures need to emphasize objective data and use subjective considerations with well-defined guidelines on how to interpret the subjective material.  Objective data is statistically measurable. It may be boiled down to concepts such as, “The Objective was met, or was not met.” – or, “The team met 75% of the target completion rate.” These results may be tabulated, or otherwise recorded in a manner that allows trending and/or comparison. They can provide a very telling story if their statistics are organized right.

“Information is Power.”  If you organize and share information well with your team, you make them more powerful and potentially much more effective. Subsequently, you will likely make your Company more successful.

Employees generally desire established & planned objectives, with periodic evaluations of their performance.  Job performance should continually improve, due to an atmosphere of regular interactive and objective dialog between Employees and their Leaders / Supervisors. Performance planning and evaluation is a continuous process and must not be restricted to a semi-annual written evaluation.  Evaluations are most effective if they are an interactive conversation and review of supporting data, rather than merely a one-way rating session.

Part of these sessions should address exploiting opportunities, lessons learned (both good and bad), shoring up weaknesses, and planning for the next period.

Employees benefit from understanding how they fit into the bigger picture, both in terms of responsibility and performance. Done well, this becomes a source for better job satisfaction, enthusiasm for Company goals and subsequent improved performance, both for individuals and the team.

16.   Help Employees Feel Rewarded and Recognized for Empowered Behavior

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Regardless of how mechanically, technically and statistically our businesses are driven; it still comes down to the people-element, whether a business is effective and successful in the long term. Leaders must deal effectively with the emotions and other messy realities of people.

When employees feel under-compensated, under-titled for the responsibilities they take on, under-noticed, under-praised, and under-appreciated, don’t expect results from employee empowerment. The basic needs of employees must feel met for employees to give you their discretionary energy, that extra effort that people voluntarily invest in work. For successful employee empowerment, recognition plays a significant role.

As stated above, establishing responsibility and goal challenges actually improves job satisfaction and overall employee morale, as long as the goals are SMART, i.e. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. To motivate, goals must have:

  1. Clarity.
  2. Challenge.
  3. Commitment.
  4. Feedback.
  5. Task complexity.

Even if you have incorporated all the elements above, true empowerment will fall short if you fail to emphasize number 4 – Feedback.  This needs to be regular and consistent. Verbal – Yes, for sure and a lot of it, but you need to have more formal feedback as well. Formal feedback may include recognition in meetings, written reviews, Performance Incentive Bonuses (only if tied to performance according to objective guidelines), a hand-written note from the team leader, etc.

Feedback promotes respect, acknowledgement and engagement. A Performance Incentive Bonus program provides the recognition and sense of appreciation in a tangible form. Done well, it creates a Win-Win scenario. See DIADconsulting.com for more details.

[1]Locke, Edwin A.; Shaw, Karyll N.; Saari, Lise M..; Latham, Gary P. (1981), “Goal Setting and Task Performance: 1969–1980”, Psychological Bulletin (American Psychological Association) 90 (1): 125–152, doi:10.1037/0033-2909.90.1.125, retrieved 2010-06-01

[2] Shalley, Christina E. (April 1995), “Effects of Coaction, Expected Evaluation, and Goal Setting on Creativity and Productivity”, Academy of Management Journal 38 (2): 501 Extra |pages= or |at= (help), doi:10.2307/256689, JSTOR 256689;

Latham, G.; Locke, Edwin A. (2002), “Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation”, The American Psychologist 57 (9): 705–17, doi:10.1037/0003-066X.57.9.705

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