Empowered employees are better employees. And this naturally leads to companies becoming more agile and better able to serve client needs, and therefore more likely to succeed. I believe that empowering employees reduces absenteeism, increases satisfaction and elevates employee morale. They are happy, energized and eager to go to work.
While part of this is common sense, empowered employees are not as common as you might imagine. To truly empower your employees means allowing them to make informed decisions, rather than clearing everything through managers. It increases accountability, but also gives the employees a vested interest in the company’s success. Basically, it creates buy-in and drives fidelity with employees.
The concept of empowerment reminds me of the business fable of “The Chicken and the Pig.” The two barnyard animals contemplate opening a breakfast restaurant specializing in ham and eggs. In most versions of the tale, the pig says, “I’m committed, but you’re only involved.” If you want your employees to be committed, you have to make them responsible. Only then do they have skin in the game.
This isn’t new thinking. Way back in the ’60s, psychologist and management consultant Frederick Herzberg found that although poor working conditions and inadequate salaries contributed to job dissatisfaction, correcting those issues didn’t automatically increase job satisfaction. What did contribute to job satisfaction was meaningful work, achievement, career development, recognition and responsibility. It is still widely understood that job dissatisfaction and satisfaction act independently of each other.1
Perhaps more important, the sharing of responsibility (thus accountability) relieves you, as the boss, from having to be the master and commander of all things. When staff take responsibility, they develop the fidelity you need to trust that they “have your back.” This is because trust begets trust. Your life is simpler now, and managing your business becomes easier.
Trusting and empowering your employees also has more than a few other benefits, including:
- Your business doesn’t have a single point of failure. If you or other executives or managers leave the company, become ill or worse, business goes on. You have a level of built-in business continuity. Expertise and competence become woven like a mesh throughout the company, making it more resilient.
- Cost savings: by allowing employees to determine their own work methods, you benefit from their individual years of experience. They can (and will) suggest process innovations; the company becomes more efficient, and you save money.2
- An improved management-employee dynamic occurs. Managers confidently rely on empowered employees to get the job done, and employees learn that managers are there to help, as coaches, with a direct interest in their success.
- Empowerment brings a can’t-be-bought morale boost from employees. Employees find greater satisfaction from meaningful work and career development than simply salary. Employees who feel valued are far less likely to press the “wage-increase button” as frequently.
Of course, it’s not enough to simply empower employees; they must also be well-informed and engaged for you to fully reap the rewards of a culture of empowerment. Being engaged means that employees are on board with your goals and hold them as their own. While related to empowerment, for employees to embrace your goals they obviously need to be privy to them. So, keeping an empowered and engaged team requires them to be well-informed on the company’s goals, the role they play, and how that in turn plays into their success.