Every manager today whether in a SME or Large Enterprise would have a decent understanding of what empowerment is and why it is important. Yet in my experience, across many organisations, real empowerment is still very elusive.
This is particularly a problem with SME’s. In many SME’s the business is still being run by the founding members and senior staff who have often been there since, or close, to inception. These people may not have had exposure to larger organisations, which typically provide a great, structured training ground for managers who may then find themselves working for an SME later in their careers. Or they may simply have had little recent training. Many SME’s don’t invest in training their staff on soft skills and keeping current with up to date management practices.
Even in the Enterprise space, many Managers would have been promoted because they are good technically and not because they are good with people. The result is that they are often oblivious to what it takes to run a good team and to get the best out of the individuals. Even once they have been trained, these technically outstanding managers find it hard to implement what they’ve been taught about empowerment. These Managers often don’t trust their staff to make good decisions on their own so, even if staff are empowered to do the small tasks on their own, often all key decisions are autocratically made by the Manager. The results of this can prove disastrous in terms of team morale and getting quality outcomes from both the team and individual members.
What do we want?
Aside from compensation, most of us want fairly simple things from the hours we spend at work every day. We want:
- A job we enjoy doing
- A good physical environment in which to go about this
- To be surrounded by people we like
- To feel like we are contributing to the overall company goals
- To deliver good outcomes and feel like we are making a contribution
- To be recognised for doing a good job
One of the key elements to all of this is that we want to feel like we have some level of control over what we are doing and be able to make decisions that enable us to get the best outcomes. After all, if I am spending eight hours each day doing a particular job, surely there are few people better placed than me to make good decisions about things affecting me in this job?
The downward spiral
Once you take away the ability for staff to make decisions relating to what they do every day, there is more often than not a negative impact on the individual (and team) and potentially a downward spiral towards poor performance. Unfortunately, along with not allowing staff to make decisions, often that same manager also forgets to give positive affirmation or encouragement to staff. After all, if the Manager doesn’t think a staff member is competent enough to make decisions, it normally follows that the Manager doesn’t consciously view the work provided as up to the high standards of the Manager, and so no praise follows.
Thus, a staff member not allowed to make decisions and not receiving positive feedback can easily start thinking, “why should I bother doing all this good work when I don’t seem to be doing a good job, I don’t get recognised for my contribution and I can’t make any decisions?” The mood changes to negative, the quality of the work deteriorates and the Manager feels justified in not empowering that individual in the first place: a vicious circle.
Let them soar
In my experience of running companies and managing people, there is no option in any environment but to give as much empowerment as possible to staff. Let them be proud of what they do; let them make decisions whenever possible; let them take ownership of their role and let them know they’re doing a good job when warranted. Mistakes will be made from time to time but manage those situations and ensure everyone learns from this. My view is that if staff are making 8 0r 9 good decisions out of ten, then that is a great result (and let’s be honest; no-one ever makes ten out of ten good decisions). If they are making poor decisions too often, then there is clearly a competency issue and you probably have the wrong person for the job. In this instance, change the person but don’t change the empowerment of the next person coming into the role.
The result of this empowerment will be:
- Staff striving to do a better job, every day
- Staff being proud and positive of what they do
- Staff striving to make a positive contribution to the company and team morale
- Staff giving the Manager feedback on how things could be improved in their area of work
- Staff remaining with the company for longer
In order to lay the platform for empowerment, make sure you do the following things first to set the stage before empowering staff:
- Ensure they have a very clear job description with absolutely no ambiguity
- Ensure they have the appropriate training in terms of both duration and content when starting
- Ensure they have the right systems and processes in place to support what they are doing
- Ensure they have the right support both from the team and the Manager
A team, a department or a business cannot grow and thrive without plenty of empowerment and trust. In addition, when the time comes, the Manager will struggle to pry themselves out of a team which is totally reliant on him/her for smooth running.
Empowerment is not an option. It is critical for any organisation that values staff and believes that people are critical to company success. Keeping staff engaged, performing optimally and creating the environment for positive team morale over the years are key factors in ultimately attracting and retaining great talent. Without this talent, no organisation can thrive.