In my work as a consultant, nothing is more disheartening than to work with a company where talented people are unable to do what they are being paid to do. Rarely it's because the CEO is stupid or a tyrant; most often the leaders just don't have the proper techniques or perspective to help the employees perform at their best. Instead, company practices become obstacles or roadblocks.
Employee talent is a terrible thing to waste. Luckily, there are remedies to this problem. They may require time and some changes in behavior, but the resulting benefits of truly empowered employees will become apparent almost overnight.
Here is my approach to empowering employees and more insights from my Inc. colleagues.
1. Create alignment and rhythm.
Truly empowered employees have the knowledge and confidence to make daily decisions. The only way they can be successfully decisive is by knowing that their decisions are consistent with company and management goals and outcomes. I am a great advocate of the method outlined in the book Scaling Up. A one-page framework gives employees a clear picture of core values, purpose, and long-term vision, as well as agreed upon priorities and actions. This framework is supported by a steady rhythm of organized and efficient meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page. This way, employees always have the latest guidelines for decision-making available in writing, and they have a regular forum to gain necessary clarification. The system is elegant in its simplicity and powerful with its sophistication. Most likely any other approach is just wishful thinking.
2. Ask for help.
Say, "Can you help me?" When you ask to be taught or shown something several things happen: you implicitly show you respect the person giving the advice; you show you trust his or her experience, skill, and insight; and you get to better assess the value of their advice. If you like what you learn. . . turn the person loose. Say, "Wow... that's great. From now on you're in charge of (that)." Jeff Haden--Owner's Manual
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3. Trust who you hired.
You hired a particular person because you believe he or she was the best person for the job, right? Assuming that's the case, then the best way to quickly empower a new employee is to give him or her real responsibility and authority starting on day one. See how the new employee performs and add more responsibility and authority as the employee proves he or she can handle it. Peter Economy--The Leadership Guy
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4. Understand the definition of "empowerment".
The word empowerment is often used loosely and taken to mean absolute authority or power-- not true. An empowered employee still works within the degree of responsibility and authority given to them, and problems develop when those parameters are not clearly defined. While you may believe you've given your employee open parameters to allow for autonomy and creative input, without guidelines your employee will keep coming back for more detailed direction. Rather than hold on to unspoken expectations that you would label as common sense, communicate guidelines and the definition of success you've given to their role and responsibilities. Marla Tabaka--The Successful Soloist
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5. Provide face time.
I love new employees. Their newness to the company makes them the perfect test of current processes and procedures. With the proper outlet, they are the best person to point out potential problems. They bring with them experiences and approaches they have seen work more effectively in other places. I encourage new employees to ask "why" of their direct supervisor and company leadership. In order for this to work, they must have face time with leadership. This is accomplished through scheduled in-office meetings and two lunches during their first 90 days. During this face time, they are encouraged to share their "why" observations. The leadership they meet with is coached to listen first, and consider the feedback before immediately providing a justification. Eric Holtzclaw--Lean Forward
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6. Stand by your investment.
The best way to quickly empower an employee is first to give that person all the training, support, guidance, and resources needed to do the job right very successfully, even if it means investing a lot of your own time up front. Assuming you've hired the right person, that will pay for itself handsomely once he or she gets up to speed. Step two is to stand back and let them go--and give them your trust. I'll never forget the entrepreneur who told me that when people asked him why his company was so successful, his answer was that he trusted his employees. "Trust is the secret sauce," he said (more about him here.) Minda Zetlin--The Laid Back Leader
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