As a business owner, I have learned that the most meaningful action I can take to grow my business is to empower my employees. Empowering an employee, however, is not just about bestowing a title upon her and endowing her with responsibilities. It is a very delicate process of building trust and confidence--in herself and in my company, and it all comes down to acknowledging and allaying her fears. Every employee, regardless of position or industry is afraid of the same things.
Not knowing how to do something. Everyone I have ever met fears feeling incompetent. That sentiment of stupidity causes us to make rash, short-sighted, and often downright disastrous decisions. So making sure my employees never feel dumb, from the moment they join my company and beyond is the number one goal of our onboarding process. We take the time to teach every aspect of the employee's job from organizational tricks like the order in which tasks should be performed to optimize time, to the ins and outs of our CRM system. We demonstrate, repeat, and monitor in order to insure that the employee feels she has mastered what she is being asked to do. But the time we spend with her is not just about getting her up to speed on our products and processes, it is about showing her that her comfort and familiarity with our company's mission is as important to us as it is to her--and it teaches her that she should never fear the idea of learning something new.
Feeling like she can't ask for help. An employee who feels she can't ask for help, won't. She will either choose not to stretch herself, or she will hide the things she doesn't know. Both scenarios are bad for my business. An employee who won't stretch is one who rarely satisfies customers, who misses business opportunities, and who quickly becomes miserable at her job. An employee who hides her shortcomings is equally dangerous to my business, because she prefers to sacrifice my company's reputation rather than own her fear of allowing others to help when needed. We encourage every employee to seek input not only from management, but also from colleagues. We make a point of involving this employee in troubleshooting initiatives as soon as she is trained, and I also encourage veteran staff members to ask new hires for problem-solving help whenever possible. We want her to know that there is no shame in soliciting the aid of any other person on the team, and that doing so does not all diminish the trust we have in her as an employee.
Making Mistakes. An employee who is afraid to fail never does anything great. I want each employee I hire to be great, and the only thing within my control that can make that happen is to give her permission to be wrong. Employees the world over equate making a mistake with having one foot out the door. I don't. I make it a point to tell every employee every chance I get that I prefer her to make a bad decision rather than to make no decision at all. Rather than giving her my opinion when she faces a challenging moment, I prefer to ask her what she thinks is best, and to let her do so--even when I don't totally agree. Only once she has carried her choice through to completion, do I weigh in on the situation, focusing on the pros and cons of the choice. When she stumbles, she is met with support rather than judgement, and thus, is willing to reach as high as she can to grow herself and my business.
Fear is the great equalizer and the great paralyzer. It stops even the best and brightest from reaching their potential. By freeing an employee from her fear of failure, I set her free to succeed.