When you empower your employees, you create a culture where they are inspired to embrace the company’s purpose and make it their own. To achieve this, you must entrust them with the autonomy and resources they need to make decisions and choose their own approach to achieving goals. This article looks at why companies with empowered employees perform better, and five tips to get your employees on the path to empowerment.
An empowered workforce can be extremely successful. Implemented correctly, employee empowerment can lift a company’s culture, increase its profitability and improve the customer’s overall experience.
A study conducted by Gallup found that customer loyalty is 50 per cent higher among companies that empower their employees. Meanwhile, a pivotal study by Pepperdine University in the US tracked down 40 of the most empowered companies in the country and found that empowerment correlated with financial success.
A third study, conducted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, surveyed 1168 staff members from 31 American foundations. It found that for those employees, “Feeling empowered is more important for satisfaction than other dimensions, such as perceptions of appropriateness of pay or workload.” Employees who feel empowered are more self-confident, more self-reliant and more satisfied in their role, leading to greater productivity.
So how does a manager create and foster an environment in which employees feel their input is both desired and cultivated? Here are some strategies to consider.
1. Embed bottom-up communication and try MBWA
Many businesses only use top-down communication. This leaves employees feeling as though they have little opportunity to make small changes, let alone impact the business as a whole. While top-down is an essential part of a communication strategy, for your employees to embrace your company’s sense of purpose and feel empowered, they need to be included and heard. Embed bottom-up communication with formal and informal feedback, including regular one-on-ones or management by walking around (MBWA).
As a communication strategy, MBWA offers an alternative to face-to-face conversations, which can be difficult to maintain in increasingly digitalised workplaces. The theory is that by walking among employees in an unstructured and unplanned manner, managers are better able to understand the issues, ideas and concerns of their team members.
MBWA is a management style employed by some of the globe’s most successful and recognisable companies. The style was pioneered by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, founders of computer company, Hewlett Packard. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, was perhaps the most well-known adopter of the practice. And management meetings at Disney are held while walking, and managers work shifts alongside their resort staff.
2. Assess and simplify your systems
When organisations are in periods of transformation, it’s likely their systems won’t keep pace with the changes. For example, a startup expands quickly and the simple ad-hoc operating procedures that could once be communicated easily are no longer fit for purpose.
You can keep tabs on the relevance and effectiveness of day-to-day work processes with frequent informal communication, while also actively seeking simpler systems to make your employees’ work easier in an increasingly complex business environment. According to Deloitte University, 44 per cent of organisations are working to create a work-simplification program.
WA Fresh for example, a West Australian supplier of fresh state-grown produce, was struggling to meet consumer demand for high quality, locally sourced produce because repetitive low value-add tasks (mostly operational and administrative) were swallowing team members’ time.
After carefully analysing which processes could be automated, they approached business strategists, Randem, to create a flexible automation productivity tool, designed to cater to the business’s future growth. This left team members free to focus on more meaningful, engaging tasks that contribute to the business’s core mission.
3. Offer choice
Ever tried asking employees to put their hand up for certain projects instead of assigning them? Or to create their own teams, allowing them to choose the most suitable skill sets among their colleagues for specific challenges?
According to a Gensler Workplace Survey, choice improves the employee experience in terms of innovation, job performance, job satisfaction and workplace satisfaction. As the report says, “Enabling choice with the right alignment of tools, policies and spaces is an opportunity for companies to create a climate in which autonomous, engaged employees can make meaningful decisions to maximise their individual job performance.”
Take Facebook, for example. At FB HQ, employees can tailor their desk layout, height and configuration. Teams can choose how their workspaces are best designed to support each project (desks arranged in a circle, for instance), and a wide range of meeting spaces are available to all employees.
4. Leverage the peer factor
Have you had a job or a boss that didn’t inspire you, but you kept turning up each day because you enjoyed working with your colleagues? You’re not alone. One employee engagement survey of more than 500 organisations (and more than 400,000 responses) worldwide found that the number one thing employees loved about their workplace was their peers and colleagues.
So how can you leverage the peer factor? You could give employees the opportunity to work together in different ways, such as managing ‘sideways’ by giving a project a team leader where they become accountable for their colleagues’ performance.
5. Implement team volunteer programs
What better way to engage your staff than to get them to work collaboratively towards a common altruistic purpose? Millennial employees, for example, prefer to join a company-wide or team-specific volunteer project than donating to a giving campaign, ideally with initiatives that help the local community.
Volunteering improves employee performance, and increases morale and job satisfaction. It promotes teamwork and opens up communication between all levels of employees.
Up your employee empowerment level by allowing staff to create a task force, charged with ascertaining what the most important social or environmental issues are for the team. Then, allow them to nominate a cause (or causes) to donate or volunteer to.
At computer company Dell, their Planet Employee Resource Group connects team members with organisations that represent their sustainability interests. Employees then regularly volunteer their time to community groups that support clean-ups, tree planting, recycling drives and more. The knock-on effect of this altruism is that employees feel happy and empowered, and this flows through to the workplace.
In today’s constantly changing business environment, more than ever managers need to be leaders who create a culture where employees are inspired and empowered to embrace the company’s purpose and make it their own.
Are you empowering your employees?