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TEAM BUILDING

5 Things Smart Leaders Do to Empower Employees

You know you want a self-motivated team. Here's how to get there.
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How much does it matter to have engaged, empowered, enthusiastic employees? It can make the difference between success and failure, says Hossein Kash Razzaghi, founder of Fancred, a social network platform for sports fans used by such brands as Mashable and ESPN.

"It's not about people who are good at what they do, but people I trust," he says. "I have the vision, but it's up to them to buy in and become a successful company. Trust comes into play when individual team members believe in that challenge and put their skills to use to meet it."

Having empowered employees that he can trust also helps Razzaghi use his own time most effectively. "If I have that trust, I don't have to use a time card or worry if someone takes a lunch break that's 15 minutes longer," he says. "I don't have to sit in on every meeting to make sure they're doing what we need them to do."

Sounds great--but how do you create empowered employees in the first place? Here's what Razzaghi says works at Fancred:

1. Make sure they care about what you care about.

For Fancred, that means hiring people who share Razzaghi's vision of the power of sports to bring together diverse groups of people. "If you've been affected by sports and know other people who have, and you know they can have a positive effect on people's lives, that's what we're looking for," he says. "If you fundamentally don't believe that, it shows in your output."

This is one reason why Fancred has a tradition of trying people out as contractors or temporary hires on a specific project before bringing them on permanently, he says. It's also why the company gives employees a $200 monthly allowance for purchasing tickets to sporting events. Not only can that reinforce their commitment to sports as a positive influence--it also gives them great opportunities to use Fancred themselves.

2. Make the path to advancement clear.

If someone does their work well, will they be able to move up within your company? And if not, will you help them move on to a better job someplace else? Before founding Fancred, Razzaghi himself started out as an executive assistant at a different company, and his boss gave him opportunities that soon landed him on the sales team--something he's never forgotten.

Giving employees a career path is especially important in a small or startup company where they must regularly pitch in and do work that falls outside their traditional job descriptions. "No one likes to do bitch work," Razzaghi says.

3. Challenge them.

"As an employer, I'll try very hard to hire you for a specific role," Razzaghi says. "But from time to time, we'll try to extend that and give you projects the company needs that also allow you to expand your skills."

For example, Fancred employs two community managers whose main responsibility is to act as liaisons with college student interns to help promote Fancred. Razzaghi has encouraged them to expand the role beyond the college connection, to create a list of brands to target for partnerships, and then actually pitch those potential partners.

"It's in the same ballpark as what they're comfortable doing," he says. "But this really extends their skill set, and helps the company too."

4. Tell them how they'll be measured.

"The worst thing in the world is doing something, and not knowing if it made a contribution," Razzaghi says. "You can't become better unless you know how you're measured."

So every time he hires someone, they have an honest conversation about what that person's responsibilities are and how they'll be evaluated. "How do we know you're successful?" he asks. "That's something we try to review with employees often, asking if we have the right measurements and why we use them. Even the most junior jobs need to have this same process so that everyone can understand what the factors are for their success and how to achieve them."

5. Get out of their way.

"If I trust you to come to Fancred in a certain role, I have to give you the opportunity to fulfill that role based on your own knowledge and expertise," Razzaghi says. Thus he prefers to give employees general goals--X users by X date, for instance--and let them figure out how to reach those goals. In sports terms, it's what he calls being a general manager as opposed to a coach.

"As CEO, my job is to make sure we have the right vision," he says. "Once I provide that vision, my job is to really allow my team to shine and do what they're good at."

Like this post? Sign up here for Minda's weekly email, and you'll never miss her columns. Next time: Classic business advice that is dead wrong.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Aug 4, 2014

MINDA ZETLIN | Columnist | Co-author, 'The Geek Gap'

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and speaker, co-author of The Geek Gap, and former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Like this post? Sign up here for a once-a-week email and you'll never miss her columns.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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