According to research, employee empowerment may be one of the most important elements in determining the success of your business. Whilst many will have heard of employee engagement — the act of trying to captivate someone’s attention and interest — empowerment actually occurs further ‘upstream’ and is a prerequisite for engagement.
What is empowerment?
Empowerment is all about giving a greater degree of autonomy to make decisions and choose a course of action. The overarching aim of empowerment is to help individuals create their own success and, in the process, a healthier work culture.
The enemy of empowerment would, therefore, be micromanagement. Much has been written about the corrosive effect this practice has on businesses. Trust and teamwork are dissolved when employees feel that someone is constantly looking over their shoulder and judging everything that they do. Employees stop trying to innovate when they sense that they may be overruled at any moment. After a while, many become despondent at their lack of involvement and start looking for new opportunities.
On the other hand, empowerment helps employees perform better, feel more satisfied in their role, and have a stronger sense of loyalty to the organization. Business owners and managers are waking up to the reality that empowerment can have a marked effect on the bottom line.
Content marketing agency owner, Sebastian Scheplitz, has made employee empowerment the cornerstone of his business philosophy. Now the CEO and founder of a group of growing companies, Scheplitz had less than an auspicious start in life. He recounts his childhood which saw him having to relearn to walk after a car accident, suffering at the hands of bullies, and being overwhelmed by numerous self-limiting beliefs — a legacy of his East German, socialist upbringing.
Nevertheless, all of this personal pain gave Scheplitz a unique perspective on life. He says, ‘I was struggling and I learned to see that same struggle in those around me. Now that I’m in a position to do so, I want to ‘pull everyone up’. That’s why I get up every day. I know I’m now in a position where I can help and inspire others. I work for my employees, my team members. That’s my drive. Sure, the money is a very nice side effect, especially after having pretty much nothing until a short while ago…”
Decisions, decisions, decisions…
One area where Scheplitz involves his team and elevates them is in making decisions. Recent research, by McKinsey, discovered that top executives can spend as much as 70% of their time on making decisions, running themselves ragged in the process. Not only does this lead to greater pressure on key people, but it’s highly inefficient and expensive. Some Fortune 500 companies spend over 250 million dollars a year simply for executives to make straightforward decisions.
Whilst experts advise not all the decisions are created equal, there are, nonetheless, many low-grade ones that have limited organizational impact. For greater efficiency, they should be directed to less senior members of the team.
Research, however, counsels against giving too much responsibility too soon. Well-meaning managers assume that they should give their teams lots of space to ‘do as they see fit’, only stepping in when someone ‘makes a mess’. Rather than empowering people, this has the opposite effect. Suddenly quashing poor decisions can undermine employee confidence, making people feel foolish and embarrassed.
Delegating Responsibility Responsibly
The most successful empowerment models involve coaching— junior employees are nurtured until their experience, knowledge, and confidence grow to the same level as the manager. At this point, they are able to handle more responsibility alone.
Sebastian Scheplitz sums it up by stating, “Experiences are better shared. So, inspiring a team and being able to delegate is important to me. And that makes it a team journey.” Borrowing from his experience as a basketball coach, Scheplitz adds, “I always compare it to a sports team. Kobe Bryant gave his personal best and was considered by many as the best player in the world. But he couldn’t have done it without his team and coaches.”
“In sports terms, I would be a playing coach. In military terms maybe a frontline general. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty and if my team needs me. I’ll put in 40 extra hours per week just so the projects get finished and run smoothly. They know that I’ll have their back no matter what.”
Have the hard conversations
Corporate culture traditionally avoids the ‘hard conversations’, assuming that negative feedback will have a damaging effect on the recipient. However, it turns out that this is a misguided belief. Further analysis points to the fact that employees prefer clear guidance and feedback, even when they need to be corrected.
Alternatively, if managers fail to communicate small grievances, it can grow into a huge problem. Employees sense that they have done something wrong but are unclear as to what is expected of them, and how they might progress. Smart managers, and business owners, seek to keep active lines of communication. since awkward silence is a breeding ground for fear and mistrust.
Open the lines of communication
Empowered employees should enjoy two-way communication with managers. Not only are they open to receiving instruction but they also share their ideas with enthusiasm. For this to be successful, management must act on that information. If they merely pay lip service to employee insights and ignore good ideas, they will alienate the staff and miss out on revenue-generating opportunities.
One of the most powerful conversations an employer can have is where he allows the employee to map out their own growth and development. When an employee really senses they have a future in an organization, feelings of loyalty, work output, and engagement climb. This is especially true when companies take practical steps to develop people: personal coaching, sending people on courses, and allowing them to work-shadow other business functions.
Sebastian Scheplitz comments, “I’ve said before, I’m working for my employees/team members, and they know that I’ll have their back. We’re doing regular 1:1s where they can talk about anything. I’m even helping some of them with their personal life since I believe that all aspects of life are relevant…I have an open ear for everyone.”