written by: Jean Scheid•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 8/29/2010
Power to the employee! While not a new concept, the principles of employee empowerment are often non-existent in a variety of work environments. Do leaders and business owners fear giving power to employees or is it that most leaders don’t understand how this principle can be beneficial?
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Understanding the Empowerment Principle
As an employer myself, I’d like to think I do apply the principles of employee empowerment, but I wanted to really research this concept to see if my methods were correct or lacking. The Prentice-Hall Online Glossary defines employee empowerment as “A method of improving customer service in which workers have discretion to do what they believe is necessary—within reason—to satisfy the customer, even if this means bending some company rules."
Today’s definition of employee empowerment is much different than that of Scientific Management pioneer, Frederick W. Taylor (1865-1915) who said, “Hardly a competent workman can be found who does not devote a considerable amount of time to studying just how slowly he can work and still convince his employer that he is going at a good pace."
Somewhere, between these two employee principles is what I would call a happy medium. If you continually complain about today’s changing workplace culture or your feelings on work ethics you can bet your actions, verbal or non-verbal, will be noticed by your employees—as a negative.
While I do think I have competent employees who sometimes do indeed bend company rules to get the job done, this alone is not the best way to apply the principles of employee empowerment. If a workplace environment is more like “it’s everyman for himself," you’ll experience employee chaos. Business leaders, managers and HR experts are now learning that employee empowerment doesn’t mean the captain loses control of the ship, but rather, the ship moves in a less rocky fashion because of the empowerment.
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7 Steps to Empower Your Employees
In the workplace, I like to think that by allowing employee empowerment you gain employee pride and self-esteem. With these added characteristics come happier and motivated employees who feel what they do each day has value.
If you haven’t explored the principle of employee empowerment, you need to develop a plan that offers real trust in your employees conveyed by your business vision and mission.
Follow these 7 steps to empowering your employees:
Make the Empowerment Fit the Employee – Yes, your employees do have brains and are able to make decisions on their own. Every employee within your company has assigned tasks based on their skillset. Look at their job description and find ways you can offer unique empowerment that fits the employee’s work duties.
Communicate Empowerment – Let your employees know you are proactive about the employee principle of empowerment. Ask for their suggestions on ways they can implement decision-making processes that will benefit themselves, co-workers, and the business.
Train Empowerment – There will be some slow starters who may fear real responsibilities. Help train those who fear empowerment and let them know you trust them do to their job.
Reward Empowerment – Those who excel in making successful decisions, even if they are decisions you may not make, should be rewarded. Ask them to communicate their problem-solving processes to co-workers. Find ways to offer rewards or incentives to these leaders.
Envision Empowerment – You gained your business or leadership vision so why not pass that vision on to your employees? Make them feel like they’re part of the goals of the business. Guide them to understand that your company and your vision will not be as effective if they are not part of the vision. Involve and engage them.
Be Fair When Empowering – Learn and understand the true ability of your employees. Do challenge those abilities through empowerment and don’t just offer the lowest level employee the drudge work—really challenge them and monitor how well they do. Help them improve when you can.
Problem Solving Empowerment – Teach your employees your own problem-solving skills. Hold periodic meetings to discuss what various techniques were utilized when employees made their own decisions. This can guide your employees to understanding the right and wrong way of problem solving.
When applying the principle of employee empowerment at your office, make sure you understand that just as every workplace environment is different, all people are different—this includes your employees --- so stop looking at them as machines who do only what you want them to do.
Your unique visions can be passed along through empowering your employees and what you will gain is a smooth running, happier workplace with employees who know they can get the job done without constantly relying on you as their guide. Both you and your employees will benefit through empowerment plans.