The best way to empower your business is to empower your employees.
Your company exists, grows, and achieves based on the people that drive it. And in order to keep your company growing and succeeding, you need to optimize how work is performed. And that kind of optimization is best drawn from empowerment.
According to a Gallup poll, only 37% of employees who feel they are engaged in their job would leave for a raise of 20% or less. That's a big indicator of just how important engagement and empowerment are. Employees are willing to turn down more money if it means less empowerment.
Employees need to feel that they have a voice within the company. They need to feel that their voice matters, that they're more than just machines there to fulfill a task.
Only when your employees are empowered will you reap the benefits of everything they're capable of, and bring your company to new heights.
The Case for Empowerment
Forcing your employees to follow a rigid set of rules that doesn't allow them to contribute in their own individual ways only turns them into machines.
A machine can't surprise you. A machine can't be creative. A machine can't innovate or contribute to the culture of your workplace. The best thing about having human employees is that they can do all those things--and more. Take advantage of the human attributes that your employees bring to the table. Don't just tell them how to do something; provide a clear vision, let them fill in the rest, and trust yet verify.
After all, you vetted them through the interview process, looking for the best and brightest. In order to get them at their best and brightest, they need to have the tools to do so, and that toolbox is called empowerment.
Step One: Listen
The first way to empower your employees is the easiest to do, but is often forgotten: listen to them.
People want to know that their opinions and ideas matter. You don't have to say "yes" to every idea. But just the fact that they know you're actually listening and giving what they say a fair shake is enough to show their ideas matter.
This is especially true of younger employees who are just entering the workforce and are excited to put their ideas into play. Often times leaders and more senior employees won't give them a chance because they're new and haven't put in their time. But you'd be doing them and your company a serious disservice by not hearing out what they have to say--they just might have the fresh eyes to see a solution you need.
There's nothing more disappointing than watching an employee with all the energy to become an overachiever have their spirit broken because they never felt like their ideas mattered.
You have to create a culture in which your employees feel safe. And this takes several shapes.
There's the safety of job security. Nothing shortens performances like catching wind of layoffs or firings. People do not work their best when they're scared. If they're scared, they won't take chances. If they never take chances, they'll never feel empowered.
There's also the safety of ideas. Make your office a place where people can feel safe to offer ideas, suggestions, or thoughts on what works and what doesn't. The problem with leadership roles is that leaders are rarely the ones who interact directly with the customers. It's important to hear from your employees that do, because they have valuable insight to offer. But they won't share their thoughts if they don't feel safe doing it.
It's Okay to Make a Mistake
In order for true creativity and innovation to take place, you have to be willing to make mistakes.
Any time you experiment or test, you run the risk of failure. But failure is a large part of learning. If you never fail, you're never truly testing.
This is where a so-called "agile" method really comes in handy. (Disclosure: My company specializes in this.) With this type of approach, you're always testing small variations or installments of a larger project. And it usually only takes a week or two to find out the results. There's much less risk in the whole project.
The acceptance that mistakes will be made as part of the process helps build toward the comfort and security of your employees. They will be more willing to experiment, to fail, if they know they won't be fired because of it.
This all goes back to safety. You need to have safety in place in order for people to feel comfortable making the mistakes that will eventually lead your company to success.
The more you empower your people, the more they'll surprise you--in good ways.
If you force your employees to carry out your specific set of instructions, you're only going to get what you asked for. But, if you share the vision of the end goal and give them the freedom to experiment and fail, you may find them delivering something you'd never thought of, something that might be better than anything you could have expected.
It's about trust. Your employees have to trust you to create the best space for them to perform. Just as you have to trust them to deliver. And if they're truly empowered, they'll deliver in spades.