Don’t Settle for Engaged Employees—Empower Them

Don’t Settle for Engaged Employees—Empower Them

/ People, , People management
Don’t Settle for Engaged  Employees—Empower Them

Give your staff greater purpose, motivation and support to deliver the best possible customer experience.

Leaders who demonstrate a genuine interest in the lives and growth of their employees are already on the right track to earning their respect, boosting workplace morale, and inspiring employee engagement. When leaders go a step further and entrust their employees with the authority to act on their own—all while giving them the encouragement and support they need to reach their highest potential—it is easier to mobilize them to stretch themselves in ways they never thought possible.

Top-level executives recognize the benefits of empowering employees. They understand that most managers simply cannot afford the time and effort to make sure that each member of their team is doing exactly what is expected of them. By reducing micromanagement and empowering more employees, leaders can focus on improving organizational effectiveness, productivity, business performance, and more. Everybody wins—from employees and managers to customers and shareholders.

Empowered employees tend to feel a stronger sense of purpose and are willing to go the extra mile. They will feel listened to, not just asked for their ideas and opinions. They will also have greater confidence and know when to use their own best judgment to manage issues, overcome challenges and resolve problems. In essence, empowered employees are more likely to have the knowledge, resources and competence to deliver the best possible experience for customers.

From a customer experience perspective, empowering employees to meet the needs and expectations of clients makes good business sense. High turnover rates caused by disempowered and disengaged employees can erode the quality of the customer experience. Longer wait times may occur as new employees learn the ropes and lower customer satisfaction results cause irritation for both customers and employees alike.

Excellent leaders are eager to develop the performance of others and capitalize on the discretionary effort needed to make their organizations thrive. They empower their teams because they believe in the innate potential of people to innovate and add value. They understand that by giving employees the autonomy to decide how to do their work, with whom and when, they are helping them rise to their full potential.

Empowerment: What Is It?

At its core, empowerment is about power. Power is the ability to influence others to do what we want, regardless of their own wishes or interests (Weber, 1946). Power can be about domination, authority, influence and control—while the act of empowering is to give power or authority to someone else. To create an environment where empowerment can thrive, power must be able to change hands and expand to a broader group of individuals (Page & Czuba, 1999).

Empowerment helps people gain control over their own lives. “People have a deep-seated desire to direct their own lives, to extend and expand their abilities, and to live a life of purpose,” writes Daniel Pink in his bestselling book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Employees want the capacity to implement and act on issues they define as important. Pink’s top three factors that motivate employees to do more include: autonomy (the desire to direct our own lives), mastery (the urge to get better and better at something that matters), and purpose (the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves).

Autonomy is the opposite of control, giving employees the autonomy and power over their time at work, such as how they allocate their hours each day, what work they do in a given day, and how they actually perform the main responsibilities of their job.

Giving employees the power and authority to direct their work lives drives improved organizational performance. Cornell University studied 320 small businesses, half of which granted workers autonomy and the other half relying on top-down direction. The businesses that offered autonomy grew at four times the rate of the control-oriented firms and had one-third the turnover (Pink, 2009).

Are You a Leader Who Empowers Others?

A leader who focuses on holding power instead of using it to drive performance will typically exhibit behaviors such as: monopolizing team discussions, failing to delegate responsibility to the team regularly, and overseeing or micromanaging every project. They will frequently use non-empowering words such as “you should” or “you must” and have a very controlled work space by not allowing employees to drop by unannounced or without a formal appointment. Blame is often directed at employees without taking on the full responsibility expected of leaders.

Employees do not respond well to power-driven leaders who control their teams. They need leaders who are willing to channel their power by challenging and facilitating individuals on the team to improve, advance and excel. These leaders actively study and consistently communicate how everyone on the team connects. They equip people with processes that enable them to transform their work or their team, and to teach others how to do it themselves. It is the essence of great leadership, they desire a positive and lasting impact on their people and the organization. John Quincy Adams said it best: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

Are you the kind of executive or business leader who wants employees to outperform their peers by creating a culture that empowers them? Take the short self-assessment questionnaire above to rate yourself on the behaviors needed to empower others.

Principles of Empowerment

Empowered employees play a critical role in delivering exceptional customer experiences. They make hundreds of decisions every day across multiple touchpoints, providing services and meeting customer requirements. While training and standard operating procedures help to ensure a consistent and intentional experience, it is during those moments of truth—the instance or occasion when a customer will form a positive or negative opinion about an organization based on how the employee handles the occasion—that can make all the difference. Leaders must equip employees to understand how to resolve problems on the spot, lead efforts that advocate for improvements in the customer experience, and raise issues that frontline employees know from experience are customer irritants.

Employees are an incredible source of feedback about what is or isn’t working. This ranges from understanding the general happiness of the staff, having information about potential internal problems at the company, or suggesting ways to improve issues that customers have frequently voiced. For most organizations, this data source is underutilized and untapped.

At Janet LeBlanc + Associates Inc., we define empowerment as having the following principles:

  1. Decision-making power: Identify those areas of the business that can provide employees with the opportunity to make decisions that impact their lives.
  2. An opportunity to make a difference: Give adults a problem and they will work to resolve it. Employees work best when the ideas are their own.
  3. Access to information and resources: Decisions are best made when employees have sufficient information to weigh the consequences. Employees need enough organizational performance information to put things in context so that solid ideas and input can be put forward.
  4. A range of options to choose from: Employees need meaningful choices, not limited “peas or carrots” offerings.
  5. The freedom to speak out in a safe environment: Employees need to feel that their leader respects their views and that they will receive an honest response back. They need to feel safe challenging a leader’s views and raising issues or concerns.
  6. Being challenged to create new ideas: Employees who are encouraged to design the ideal customer experience derive greater satisfaction when they are part of the solution.
  7. Knowing someone has your back: Changes in process or new company directives may cause some employees to be judged and challenged. They need to know the leadership team has their back and will help to stick-handle resistance.
  8. Feeling a sense of security to take risks: Employees who have a great sense of fear about what will happen to them if a mistake is made are unlikely to make suggestions, look for opportunities to address customer issues or identify persistent company problems.
  9. An opportunity for growth and development: The majority of learning is by doing. Give employees the freedom to select an area of improvement they would like to work on.
  10. Being recognized for doing great work: Frequent informal and formal recognition for doing great work helps drive employees to new heights. They appreciate regular feedback and praise for their efforts and improved results.

In Closing…

“Hire good people and leave them alone,” said William McKnight, president of 3M during the 1930s. These words of wisdom still hold true today. The more that leaders and their executive teams empower managers and employees, the more they will attract opportunities for better ideas, contributions, collaborations, solutions, and results. To empower employees is to give them greater purpose, motivation, support, and confidence to deliver the best possible customer experience at every opportunity.

Are You A Leader Who Empowers Others?

As an executivesenior manager… YesNo

  1. Is my leadership more about my own power than empowering the team I’m leading?
  2. When people on the team talk, am I really listening to them or thinking about what I am going to say next?
  3. Does my team feel comfortable saying “no” to me, or is their response to me always “yes”?
  4. Do I really seek out people for my management team who will challenge me?
  5. Do I effectively empower people on my team by giving them decision-making authority?
  6. Do I have a tendency to micromanage every project?
  7. Do I monopolize team discussions?
  8. Do I delegate responsibility to my team regularly and hold them fully accountable?
  9. Does my team feel they are a part of something that is making a difference?
  10. Do I keep my team fully informed with things they need to know to be successful?
Janet LeBlanc

Janet LeBlanc

Janet LeBlanc is President of Janet LeBlanc + Associates, a consulting firm specializing in customer experience management. She coaches senior leaders of Fortune 100 companies and public sector institutions to create a customer-centric culture. Branded Customer Experience® and Customer-Centric Index® are registered trademarks of Janet LeBlanc & Associates Inc. All rights reserved. ([email protected]) Twitter: @janet_leblanc

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