Empowerment. Its one of those fashionable words which is overused and under applied. It is usually thrown around in conversations at chicken luncheons along with "thinking outside the box" and "collaborative effort". Everyone likes to talk empowerment, but very few managers walk empowerment.
Research tells us that fewer than one in four employees perform at their potential and that one in two work just hard enough to keep their jobs. Often times, managers lack the skill, the time or the discipline to create true employee engagement and commitment.
The essence of empowerment is creating a work environment in which people feel and act like partners in the business. Making this happen requires that three elements exist in our organization:
Share information widely: People can't act like partners in the organization if they are kept in the dark. Withholding important business information fosters mistrust and unfocused work. Employees must be briefed on critical fundamentals such as company objectives, operating performance, key challenges and future plans. Management must ensure that people understand company strategy and how their job contributes to this strategy.
Manage what not how: A good leader holds people accountable for results (what) rather than dictating methods (how). Make sure people know exactly what outcomes are expected and what boundaries will be enforced. After that, foster self-governance. Make sure that people participate in setting goals, planning work and influencing working conditions. Employees must also be allowed to solve problems and make decisions when and where they occur.
Ensure management adapts to diverse situations and people: A one size fits all leadership is ineffective. Often, we manage from our own style rather than adapting to the situational diversity of our people. Close supervision may be welcome to a newer employee but be perceived as micromanagement to a veteran staff member. Conversely, arbitrary delegation without training or follow up may leave people feeling abandoned and out of control.
Once these elements have been integrated into company culture, leaders must take each employee through the steps of empowerment. Again, it's not just a nice word, it is a specific process:
Like anything, real empowerment requires an investment of time and commitment on the part of management. However the return on this investment is an inspired, driven workforce committed to making your organization a success.