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Effective Employee Empowerment: 5 Strategies

2009 June 12
by Craig Angus
The hot air balloon is a strong metaphor for emrol; but you have sufficient lattitude to ensure a great ride. powerment.  You don't have aabsolute contThink of what you are missing is you just don't let go.

The hot air balloon is a strong metaphor for empowerment; you don't have absolute control, but you can guide, oversee, adjust as needed to ensure a great ride. However, if fear dominates your thoughts, you will simply miss a great ride.

Here we go with the Friday Five — “Craig’s Top Five List”.

Empowering employees is supposed to be a valuable strategy: after all, if you didn’t need your fine complement of employees to work to their full capacities, why would you hire them in the first place.  Certainly not so they can watch you work.  On this premise alone, we can agree that empowerment in “a good thing”.  Quite simply, empowerment’s lustre is bloodied because of the casual, random manner in which managers introduce this “most excellent” opportunity.  So on this fine Friday, I am offering five practical strategies that can be applied to ensure that empowerment works effectively in your workplace:

  1. Buy-in: By involving your employees in the design of your empowerment initiative, it becomes theirs.  The team will always outperform the individual and you will develop a powerful empowerment model.  Or you could waste a lot of time and develop your model in secret;  your employees will feel that the program is moderated and controlled right from the beginning — not a good start.
  2. Boundaries: Raise your concerns and fears with your employees as you are developing the model; of course, this presumes that they have not demonstrated their competence by already highlighting any red flags that would need a boundary.  To assist the high school principal — we met on Monday — overwhelmed by urgent e-mails, what strategy would address his concern?  I would suggest three guidelines: (1) empower department heads to deal with staffing issues in their areas; (2) when a need for an absence arises, require all teachers to directly contact their department head by phone (or now text), using the impersonal e-mail only where there is no other option; and (3) have department heads report weekly or even monthly on staffing shortages or the effectiveness/ abuse of the system.
  3. Communication: Communication is your security blanket — it allows you to build confidence in the system.  To illustrate this point, I refer to a time years ago when my teenage daughter pressured me relentlessly for a later and later curfew.  Loving her as I did and knowing from personal experience that the later a child stayed out the greater chance of some form of crisis, I resisted her approaches.  However, through consultation we eventually came up with a compromise that we both found satisfying.  Her part of the bargain was a series of boundaries that she would learn and teach to her peers.  Her requirement was to communicate these to me and demonstrate that her friends also knew them.  Further, it was communication that convinced me that the system was working.  In your workplace, you will require feedback in terms of how the system is working and what tangible results are being produced.  With this information, you will know what is working and what needs to be fixed.  Although your employees may resist, I prefer too much information rather than too little.  The success of the model depends on your level of confidence.
  4. Correction: One of the boundaries that I would suggest is quite simply that nothing is cast in stone.  Right from the beginning, your staff should understand that the nature and degree of empowerment either to the team or to individuals is subject to change.   There are times when changes will be dictated merely by a clumsy model; at other times, changes will be necessitated by poor performance.
  5. Ownership: Empowerment is not a right; it is a privilege.  It is earned through performance and accountability to the system and the supervisor.  Within this framework, I found that ownership is strengthened when each employee has a piece of the pie.  The piece of the pie is determined through individual capacity and performance.   In addition to that component of the work that the manager believes the individual can handle, I like to build in just a little stretch — a challenge to grow to the next level.  When work is successfully completed, the employee deserves recognition — from you, from peers, from other organizations and from senior management.  This sends the message to employees that they are values, not just by you by by the organization.  Employees who are recognized will commit more strongly to the empowerment model they have developed with you.

Please let me know what your thoughts are and what experience has been with empowerment.

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