When you empower your people with the right tools and decision-making, they take share in the ownership and business success.

Businesses must capture opportunities rapidly to outpace their competition.  Thus, it is even more important to be the best at identifying, prioritizing, and implementing opportunities which will deliver bottom line business results.  The time to leapfrog your competition is now.

Why is empowerment the key to success?  Empowered employees achieve substantial results which also tie directly to what’s required to succeed in the new normal:  1) Reduce costs & delays.  2) Deliver exceptional service.  3) Innovate in alignment with vision.

Or, just think about the Ritz.  Their employees are empowered and will make sure their customers are happy. If you’ve experienced the service at the Ritz, you won’t want to go back!  Why not have your customers experience this same success?  Thus, consider the following steps:  1) Clear vision & boundaries.  2) Develop the skills and attitudes.  3) Control over their work.  4) Leadership.  5) Communications.  6) Tools & support

  1. Clear vision & boundaries – If there is a key to empowerment, it lies in creating the playing field.  Employees need to understand where the company is headed and why.  They need to know how they fit into the big picture, why it’s of value, and what is “in bounds” and “out of bounds”.  The boundaries could be legal, ethical, financial, etc.  Last but not least, it is vital that the employee knows that on the field, he/she calls the plays.
  2. Develop the skills & attitudes – It is not enough to declare, “You’re empowered”, and then disappear.  Have you and the employee brainstormed as to what types of skills and tools he/she will need to perform the role?  How about customer service skills?  Communication skills?  Attitude is vital – does the employee accept accountability?  Develop a plan together of what’s needed to ensure success. Provide support and feedback.  Address issues upfront.  Celebrate successes.
  3. Control over their work – Having control over your work is vital to empowerment.  If you don’t believe you can control your destiny within a set of guidelines, you will not feel or act empowered.  This is probably the hardest part of empowerment which is why I’ve seen so few cases of true empowerment.  The most successful lean environments typically support empowerment as it is core to success; however, it is surprising the number of touted lean environments which do not hold up muster when push comes to shove.
  4. Leadership – The key to empowering and engaging employees begins with leadership. I’ve yet to work with a client that had empowered and engaged employees with a weak leader on top. Yet I’ve seen the least likely suspects turn into empowered and engaged employees with an exceptional leader on top!  For example, one employee would rarely if ever make a decision as he was interested in being “under the radar” and keeping his job.  With enough encouragement that we wanted his input and wouldn’t hold him responsible for a bad decision (so long as it didn’t occur repetitively), he eventually spoke up and was an invaluable team member.
  5. Communications – A simple word for a vast topic – nothing is more critical.  This must start at the beginning with the vision and encompass the entire process through metrics and feedback.  Begin by clearly articulating the vision and goals – why does it matter?  Why is the employee important to the vision?  How does he/she tie in?  Most importantly, do not say you’ll support empowerment and not live up to your promise.  It isn’t as easy as it sounds.  You might agree in concept but when your employee doesn’t handle a situation as you’d prefer, you might be tempted to intervene.  Don’t do it!  Those who empower even when it’s inconvenient or difficult will be those who succeed.
  6. Tools & support – Empowered workers will expect the appropriate tools and support to expertly perform their work.  No need to jump on the latest bandwagon and think these cool tools will be desired by your high performers.  They’ll be unappreciated – or worse a distraction in supporting your high performers.  They will know the right tools for the job and will request them.  Listen, ask questions, push back when needed (as would be expected from a top performer) and make the tools needed for success a top priority.
  7. Appreciation – A simple thank you can go a long way! It is amazing how much of an impact being appreciated has on an employee’s level of engagement. Unfortunately, I’ve seen countless examples of exceptional employees who don’t receive appreciation; worse yet, they gain unwanted negative attention at times for bringing up potential problems or roadblocks that must be tackled in order to achieve the corporate goals. There is nothing more disheartening to an exceptional employee than a complete lack of appreciation for the results achieved. The best leaders who drive bottom line business results speak with their employees. They review goals on a frequent basis and discuss roadblocks. They show interest in the employee’s ideas and provide immediate positive and corrective feedback.