Empowering your employees

22 May

thHow do you know if you’ve empowered someone on your staff? Interestingly, it sounds like a simple question but answering it is not that easy because it’s all relative.

Take for example, one manager that I’ve just started to coach. She is shifting from running a centralized office to one that’s more decentralized. Over the past three years, this leader has been making virtually all of the decisions for the department. Because the department has grown substantially, she and her boss decided that it’s time to let others on her team make more of the decisions in an effort to be more efficient, while at the same time help to develop the next level of managers. In this case, just encouraging managers to make some decisions where they haven’t done so previously is an example of empowerment.

Empowering also entails having, for example, your management team making decisions on their own without seeking their boss’s approval. In this scenario, the managers rely on their own devices and expertise to see something through to completion. If successful, they will be rewarded in some way – and if they aren’t successful, they’re going to pay a consequence.

That’s how many of us think about empowerment. However, there is another aspect of empowerment that oftentimes isn’t talked about. That’s when an employee or direct report comes up with an idea that no one has thought of and pursues it. A great example of this occurred recently in the financial industry when an employee came up with a wonderful idea of how to establish certain metrics for a particular product line. No one in the organization had thought of this idea. Not only did this employee come up with the idea, the employee developed a robust plan and, in her spare time, developed the software design to collect and analyze the data. When the program was demonstrated in front of her boss and the boss’ boss, everyone was truly amazed. Not only was the program successful, the idea truly added value for the organization. In the end, the entire organization adopted the program. Now that’s empowerment!

Our story isn’t over. In our quest for understanding empowerment, the real question is who are the real heroes? As in the last example, is the hero the employee who developed this new internal software program or is the hero the boss for encouraging their employees to be innovative and take certain risks? Likewise, how do you determine who to empower? Let’s look at these two questions in my next blogs.

Deb Bright, Ed.D., is founder and president of Bright Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm devoted to enhancing performance. Her roster of clients includes Raytheon, Marriott, Disney, GE, Chase, Morgan Stanley, and other premier organizations. She is also a best-selling author. Her newest book is entitled The Truth Doesn’t Have to Hurt: How to Use Criticism to Strengthen Relationships, Improve Performance, and Promote Change (AMACOM Books).

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