Empowerment brings out the best in your workforce

10 June 2012 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Lionel Wijesiri
Are you a manager, supervisor or any type of leader in a business organisation and your goal is to create a work environment in which your team members are productive, contributing and happy? This brief article will offer you a few simple guidelines. These are the important principles for managing people in a way that reinforces employee empowerment. These management actions enable both the people who work with you and the people who report to you to succeed in work and their personal lives.

Open-minded managers
For employee empowerment to work successfully, the top management team must be truly committed to allowing employees to make decisions. Managers might want to define the scope of decisions that their employees can make. Building decision-making teams is often one of the models used in employee empowerment, because it allows for managers and workers to contribute ideas toward directing the company.

At the same time, we also come across autocratic managers tend not to be able to utilize employee empowerment. These types of managers, who are often called micromanagers, tend to oversee all aspects of their employees’ work and usually will not give up control.

Empowerment makes people feel valued by involving them in decisions. When you allow your employees to think independently and assist the organisation, they will respond with increased work effort and greater efficiency.

Commitment must be earned and not forced upon
In the standard dictionary, the word ‘Commitment’ is defined as - a pledge, promise or obligation that restricts one’s freedom of action; engagement, involvement. (Common synonyms - dedication, guarantee, responsibility, duty or word of honor).
You cannot force true commitment from your team members. Never! You may have a great strategy on paper. Or, you may be able to communicate the impact your strategy will have on results. You may have a number of meetings to obtain ‘buy-in’ from your team members. You may send out hundreds of memos to reinforce the message. It would not work!

I have been on both the leadership side and the associate side of strategy execution many times during my career. For some initiatives, my commitment was high. For others, my commitment was low or almost non-existent. What made the difference?  I believe there were two factors: 1) My ability to have input into the strategy execution process, 2) My ability to have a meaningful impact on the outcome.

If either of these were missing, my ‘commitment’ was lacking. And I know, based on surveys done by many HR groups that I am not alone. It amazes me how senior managers continue to use a command and control approach to strategy execution. I repeat: ‘It just doesn’t work’.
Surveys show employees become partially or fully disengaged because they are not connected to the big picture. They do not believe that their input truly matters. They are not able to make a difference. Only after they become disengaged and begin to make assumptions about what is and is not important to the company, the job becomes just a paycheck. So, if you want to stave off this disengagement, you need to involve your team members in the decision-making process from the beginning. As their skills grow, their role in the strategy execution process should increase and yours should decrease. As this happens, they will move to a place of commitment envisioned within the original definition of the word.

Involve your employees in the planning process
In many large organisations across Sri Lanka, self-directed work teams meet regularly to brainstorm ways to save money and work more efficiently. They take an active role in the goal-setting and planning process for the organisation as well as themselves. By doing so, they are not only becoming empowered, but they are also learning their own capabilities and limitations.

Whenever possible, allow your team members to take an active role in planning the company’s future. Instead of simply declaring a new sales goal each one of your team needs to reach, ask your sales team to come up with its own realistic monthly goal and a plan to reach that number. Then you and your team can analyze the goal to make sure it’s feasible and attainable.

By allowing your employees to be an active part of the planning process, they know their input matters to the company’s bottom line. Additionally, they’ll be more apt to strive to meet the goal if they know they set it themselves and laid a plan to reach it.

 Offer praise freely
Go back to the past! When was the last time you praised a team member for a job well done? In too many companies, management inadvertently neglects to offer praise on a regular basis. As a result, many employees are left to wonder how their performance rates. Without such guidance, they can easily become apprehensive about their job requirements and how to handle challenging situations. In order to empower your team and develop a sense of competence and confidence, praise them for their performance, encourage them to take risks and acknowledge their accomplishments, no matter how small. This is particularly important when they are beginning to work on new tasks or when one of them moves into a new job description.

When your team members know they are doing a good job, they will want to repeat the process again and again. They’ll also be more willing to try new ideas and challenges in order to meet your customers’ needs. The result will be a motivated workforce, eager to help the company grow.

Provide continual training and support
If you want your team to feel confident of their abilities, they need the proper job training and support. Many companies offer an introductory training period when a new employee comes aboard, but then training stops after a certain length of time. Unfortunately, most job responsibilities are continually evolving as the company matures and employees are left without the skills they need to complete their newly assigned tasks.

Employees should always be encouraged to ask for assistance and support.
If your team members feel intimidated to seek out training, they can become frustrated with their job and lose interest. Let your team know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness; rather, it is a sign of strength. When they come to you for help, be sure not to turn them away with comments such as, “You still don’t know how to do that?” Instead, ask, “Where are you having problems? What can I clear up for you?” When they know they can get the assistance they need, they’ll be empowered for greater job efficiency.

Ask clarifying questions
Employee empowerment also involves attempting to discern what is not being said, even as care is taken to understand what employees are choosing to articulate.
It is important to remember that your team members may in the past have felt their opinions were of no consequence and therefore might be reticent to share everything they are thinking. Ask clarifying questions that help to draw them out while making it clear that you really do want to know what they are thinking.
The worst that can happen is that some negative perception is brought to the fore, allowing you and your team to work through the situation and move on to other vital matters.

When you empower your team, you create an environment where people are encouraged to explore, discover, take risks and develop trust. You enable your team to succeed by providing them with the means, opportunity and capacity they need to excel.
An empowered team will always rise to the occasion, do the best job possible and help you compete in the marketplace.

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