Empowering Employees: Why It Works and When It Might Not

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September 30, 2019
Author: Ben Halverson
Organization: Lorman Education Service

Empowering your employees can have a powerful impact on your business. Ideas can be generated quickly from unlikely sources and collaboration is created in a team atmosphere. That does not necessarily mean, however, that it will automatically in every environment. What can empowerment do to help your company grow and where might you find some potholes to overcome?

What Does Empowering Your Employees Accomplish?

Empowering your employees can accomplish a number of important things in your business. It can:

Create employees who are more invested in the outcome of their work. Because employees have a say in what they can accomplish and the power to get things done, when you empower your employees, they become more invested in what their work will accomplish. They often put in more effort and become more engaged in what they're doing, which substantially improves their accomplishments on a daily basis. 

Help employees offer better customer service. Empowered employees have the ability to offer their customers substantially better service than those who have to go running for a manager or supervisor every time they want to accomplish something. They will also tend to take more pride in their work and their employment, which means they may put more effort into satisfying customers. 

Allow employees to resolve problems more easily. Problems can crop up at any time in your business day--and you don't always have the managers or supervisors on hand to deal with those problems. When you empower your employees, on the other hand, you put them in a position to take care of those problems themselves. As a result, your entire organization becomes more agile. Many issues will be dealt with long before they become more serious problems--and in fact, you may never hear about them. 

Give employees an enhanced sense of their value to your company. Your employees matter. Not only is employee turnover expensive, it can leave you struggling to offer your customers the service they expect or even to keep things running smoothly in your business. When you empower your employees, on the other hand, they get a better idea of how important they are to your company, which can in turn encourage them to show higher levels of loyalty. 

Develop an open communication pattern that leads to leadership growth. Vince Lombardi said, “Leaders are made, they are not born…” – Creating a culture where employees are empowered to have great conversations and inspired to collaborate in many different environments helps grow more leaders inside your business.

Build trust and development between employees and leadership. Leaders who empower their employees to take on more roles and additional responsibility will ultimately grow trust. Employees trust that their leader believes in their work and continued ability to grow while leaders continue to build trust in the employee’s ability. Giving out harder tasks in the future comes with less risk for both the employee and the leader.

Why Empowering Your Employees Doesn't Always Work

Empowering your employees can help accomplish a number of things for your organization. However, that does not mean that it will automatically solve every problem you have. Here are some common issues where empowering employees might not work to solve your problems immediately. 

Your employees do not seem to be performing routine tasks as efficiently as expected. Empowering employees tends to make them more creative and engaged, rather than helping speed up routine processes. This strategy, therefore, may not help employees engage more efficiently with the simple, routine tasks they must perform every day. It can, however, offer employees the tools they need to be more successful at creative problem solving and tasks that require them to think on their feet. When you empower your employees, you can also jump start innovation within your company.

Leadership within your company appears weak or has a poor relationship with your employees. Your management team matters, especially when it comes to offering employees the empowerment they really want. If management struggles with a poor relationship with employees, especially if employees view the manager as weak or ineffective, they may assume that moves made to empower them are really taking leadership pressure away from the manager. Training effective managers and giving employees the tools they need to be successful, however, can help catapult your employees to new levels of success. 

Expectations are set that not all ideas can be accomplished. Nothing can be worse for empowered employees who give ideas and never see the actionable results. Manage expectations up front with employees - not every idea or comment that is made can be acted upon. This can be hard to understand after the fact and misinterpreted that you aren’t taking their ideas and thoughts seriously.

Your employees don't feel that they have adequate support from the management. Employees who don't feel supported are unlikely to feel appropriately empowered. They need to know that they can make decisions and that management will back them up--and that management will help take care of them when there is a problem they lack the skills to solve alone. 

There are also a number of factors that influence how employees react to empowerment. For example, it may take longer for employees who have been with your organization long-term to fully embrace the implications of those changes and make the most of them. Over time, however, those employees will get on board and learn to appreciate those changes. 

Overall, empowerment is an effective tool to creating buy-in for company culture, goals and forward progress. However, with all management tools, effectively utilizing them with realistic expectations will be the key to success.

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