Why Empower Employees?
The first installment in the four part series on empowerment will focus on the “why.” Any business leader must have tangible motivation for change, and the reality for businesses where growth is the expectation is that decisions are evaluated based on their ability to impact the bottom line.
ALL ROADS LEAD TO HAPPINESS
No matter how you look at the numbers, happy employees make the company more money. Unhappy employees are bad for business. They impact turnover either by leaving or making life miserable for colleagues. People work with people they like, and clients like working with people who love their jobs because those are the people who truly engage and go the extra mile. Happy employees are also the best brand ambassadors a company has. They recommend the company to former colleagues and classmates, reducing recruiting costs, and are enthusiastic influencers when interviewing job candidates. While there are many factors that impact job satisfaction, you never hear someone suggest that they would be happier if they had less ability to make decisions that impact their daily work life.
Every year when Fortune Magazine publishes its “100 Best Companies to Work For” article, aside from being annoyed about the dangling proposition, I love reading about the “why’s” that make these employees so giddy about going to work every day. The cool perks are always a big hit: onsite daycare and dry cleaning, unlimited vacation, job sharing, paternity leave, dogs in the office. It all sounds so inviting. Competitive comp also makes an appearance on the list each year, but one element that seems to trump them all translates to empowerment. You never read a quote that says, “I get to play ping pong while drinking my free caramel macchiato during our daily 3:00 ‘White Space Break’, while my boss makes all the hard decisions! It’s so great not to have to take full responsibility for my projects. If something goes wrong, there’s always someone else to blame. It’s amazing!”
Most employers say they want employees who WANT to be empowered. Look at any job description and regardless of the role, you’ll never see, “Only follows explicit instructions from management. Must be unable or unwilling to take initiative.” Many companies seek out motivated and capable people, exciting them about the opportunity to add real value to the company, only to later hogtie them with process and barriers. Or, on the contrary, some avoid job candidates who seem too “gung ho;” those who might have the nerve to question “how we do things around here,” so management hires worker bees who take little initiative and don’t challenge the status quo. Then employers become frustrated when they are unable to motivate staff to take ownership of projects or leadership positions.
As for the staff, regardless of the perks offered or expected, empowerment and job satisfaction are directly correlated. Once the euphoria of the perks settles into being “just part of the package,” the best way to keep staff engaged is through daily stimulation. When people are empowered, they are challenged on a regular basis, allowing them to continuously sharpen their skills, take pride in their work, and learn from their mistakes.
There are three types of employees: an empowered staff that embraces the challenge, an empowered staff that shies away from responsibility, and a capable, frustrated staff that isn’t given the opportunity to take ownership. An organization that embraces empowerment will always have a staff in the first two camps. You simply can’t make everyone want to take initiative. It’s important to have a leadership team that understands this dynamic so they can invest time and energy into mentoring and evolving those most receptive. It’s also key to not become frustrated with those that simply want to punch the clock, because those “worker bees” fill important roles within the company, too. An organization that doesn’t embrace empowerment risks a revolving door of top talent, so rethinking your approach to empowerment is an imperative retention strategy in a competitive job market.
So there’s the “why.” Because an empowered staff is happier, and happy people are more profitable (and frankly much more fun to hang around). This leads to next week’s part two of the series answering the question of “how” to empower your employees.