Empowered employees are happy employees. Companies that do more than pay lip service to the notion of empowering their employees gain concrete results, ranging from increased employee retention to greater customer satisfaction to more efficient managerial resources. Employee empowerment really puts power in the hands of employees, letting them share their thoughts and opinions, make decisions and form solutions independently, and generally stimulates new ideas and creativity. All of this requires the careful support of HR and management so that employees have the skills they need to handle expanded responsibilities.
What Is Employee Empowerment?
When a company adopts the concept of employee empowerment, they allow their workers to go beyond the usual limits of managerial control. Empowered employees make many of their own choices about daily responsibilities, and are even part of the decision-making process. If there is an opposite management style to employee empowerment, it is micromanaging.
Employee empowerment can be seen as an extension of the growth mindset because it asserts that workers at all levels can learn how to be in charge of specific activities. For example:
Scheduling. Workers can set their shifts to account for personal commitments. Employees who need to take time off can contact a coworker to arrange a replacement and file (where necessary) a record with HR by themselves.
Discussions. Employees can discuss issues directly instead of involving their manager, but still have the option to escalate if matters become more of a challenge.
Decisions. Veteran employees in particular have often seen how managers deal with certain situations. They can rely on their experience for related choices, and maybe keep a record just to check that they are headed in the right direction.
Purchasing. Companies can set spending maximums and allow employees to place orders under those amounts. A manager simply needs to inspect purchase records periodically to make sure that all is according to standard.
Why Is Employee Empowerment Important?
The independence and opportunities that employee empowerment delivers can translate into huge benefits across the organization:
Conservation of Managerial Resources
Every time that an employee makes a decision on their own, the valuable time of a manager is saved. In an era where many repetitive tasks are performed by AI and other technologies, employees can duplicate such advantages for issues that require more abstract thinking but have less impact on the company. Over time, and with experience, employees learn even more about managerial decisions, resulting in a snowball effect where workers can take on increasing responsibilities. To make this process even faster, companies can consider programs such as those for leadership skills and talent development.
A Virtually Flat Hierarchy
When there are many layers of a hierarchy, front-line employees can gain a better feel for solving certain problems than the executives. Yet with multiple managers in the way, creative ideas from the floor can get lost in translation, if they are ever heard in the first place. That’s why modern concepts of organizational behavior emphasize the advantages of direct communication between decision-makers. But many companies resist eliminating managerial levels because it is a comprehensive and risky move. By implementing employee empowerment, workers can let their thoughts be known directly to those who approve important changes, and without altering the structure of the organization.
Better Customer Service
Ever been put on hold for customer service, then bounced around, and maybe even gotten cut off after an incredible amount of time? The use of employee empowerment minimizes this frustration. Customer-facing employees are given the knowledge and ability to resolve issues by themselves, and get the right people moving to correct your issue, instead of bouncing you around the system.
The time wasted while waiting for answers from above can mean idle employees, frustrated customers, and situations that only get worse. But when employees have the ability to offer ad-hoc solutions, and then wait for something more official and permanent later on, greater efficiency is the result.
Many hands make for light work, and many minds mean more creativity. Employees understand when an approach is practical, and the more experienced ones have probably “been there, done that”. With an employee empowerment approach, and through techniques such as brainstorming and parallel thinking, groups of workers have the opportunity to develop innovative ideas that can be immediately applicable. For example, they might notice an everyday procedure that could be improved, or identify a crisis in the making before anybody else. In addition, because the employees who will be implementing such ideas are the ones who created them, communication problems are minimized. To make the most of this ability, companies should consider L&D programs for creative thinking, which are a subset of problem-solving skills.
More Informative Feedback
Employees who don’t have much say in things often don’t feel the need to make observations. But an employee empowerment initiative encourages workers to speak up about how things are run. In the style of reverse mentorship, this provides a chance for managers to receive honest opinions about their performance, which can also lead to a more productive and open relationship with subordinates.
Enhanced Employee Retention and Profitability
If there’s a quantifiable bottom line to employee empowerment, it comes in the form of great retention and profitability stats. Gallup defines engaged employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” There is no better way to be involved in your job than in making your own decisions, and this greatly affects turnover; 90% of engaged employees intend to remain with their current employer for at least one year. Involved workers also tend to be a good investment, as companies with high engagement rates are 22% more profitable than those with low engagement rates.
How Does Employee Empowerment Work?
Implementing employee empowerment should be done carefully, particularly for mission-critical functions. It’s a good idea to start with one department or division, preferably one that is already a bit autonomous. In this setting, you can try out the following steps and make refinements where necessary.
Awareness is an important part of taking on responsibilities. Employees should learn about the “big picture” so that they understand the overall impact of what they are doing. This means both strategy and how it filters down to everyday tasks. For example, if your organization sells to consumers, then branding strategy is important, and social media can be very influential. Employees need to be extra careful about what image their actions might generate.
Of course, the “small picture” needs to be discussed too. Managers must review the areas where employees can take the initiative and in what ways. It’s also a wise practice for workers to keep records of important incidents and how they handled them. Managers should similarly prepare guidelines for which decisions should be bumped up to higher levels.
Tools are another must-have. Items like scheduling software, CRM, and even financial systems might be relevant to your employees. Access to databases could be required and employees will need training and experience to use them effectively.
Finally, there are regulations. From harassment awareness training to compliance requirements, independent employees need to know how rules affect what they do.
Some employees want to see a friendly and helpful face at times, so regular visits to check on progress is important. During these visits, managers should offer assistance, listen to feedback, and simply enjoy listening to the anecdotes that are sure to come up in conversation.
Whenever serious challenges are identified, HR/L&D should be contacted. One of the best ways to introduce employees to new responsibilities is through gradual exposure. Developmental opportunities such as job shadowing, temporary assignments, and secondments can be a great way to do this. For more fundamental improvements, mentorships and customized learning opportunities are another option.
And let’s not forget that it’s the employees who are making all this possible. The skills and experience that they gain will pay dividends in the future. But the smart HR manager will provide recognition today for all the stress, learning, and extra effort that workers contribute to employee empowerment. Managers should mention individual contributions during both periodic visits and at performance reviews. For companies with rewards programs, this is an ideal opportunity to put employees’ names up in lights. HR could also check periodically if the new range of responsibilities is something that the employee might consider on a permanent basis. Their enthusiasm could lead to new career paths and talent development opportunities.
Real-Life Employee Empowerment
Many leading organizations today are using employee empowerment and reaping exceptional results. Here are a few notable examples:
Ritz Carlton. This luxury hotel chain gives employees the discretion to spend up to $2,000 to resolve customer issues without needing permission from a manager. Employees can apply this amount to room upgrades, gifts, and free visits, among other options. There is no limit to the number of guests who can receive the benefit. It’s also noteworthy that Ritz Carlton refers to customer-facing employees as “Ladies and Gentlemen”.
Pret a Manger. This sandwich and coffee chain actually requires employees to give free food to customers. If you’ve been waiting in line too long, or just because you look like a good person, you might receive certain items, or even an entire meal, on the house. It’s up to employees to decide who gets what.
Costco. The big box retailer is famous for its Risk-Free 100% Satisfaction Guarantee, which is actually a very flexible returns and refunds policy. There is no time limit on returns, even on food (in some cases). Employees are able to replace or refund items without manager input (although abuse of the policy is monitored). You can even get a refund on your Costco membership within a year of purchase.
Employee Empowerment and Skills
At every stage of employee empowerment implementation, skills play a crucial role. To prepare for a new range of responsibilities, employees should have access to development programs. These can be used to enhance leadership and technical skills and ease the transition to more decision-making power.
Once employee empowerment is underway, there are sure to be skill gaps that emerge. L&D programs are an ideal method to close these gaps. Otherwise, the manager needs to get involved, which defeats a main objective of any employee empowerment initiative.
Lastly, as discussed above, it’s up to managers to review how employees are performing with their increased obligations. Doing a good job in this regard is the result of strong core management skills, such as measurement, assessment, and evaluation.
Employee Empowerment Meets L&D, Through GrowthSpace
Committing to an employee empowerment initiative means a lot of work, especially when it comes to learning and development. Making sure that each participant has the specific skills that they need can be difficult, particularly in complex organizations with many upskilling and reskilling demands.
But GrowthSpace offers the means to deliver. Its proprietary technology connects ambitious employees with industry-leading experts in the required fields of skill. GrowthSpace enables customized L&D programs, taught by the best in the business, for the best in your business.