The Management Blog
Tips & advice to help you improve your performance
The term empowerment is being thrown around a lot these days in corporate meetings and management trainings, but when asked, not all managers can precisely answer what it is.
Some believe it is delegating while others rewarding their staff members.
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Your team can offer valuable assistance in achieving your goals and objectives, but only when they are given the opportunity to do so. Many managers are reluctant to offer more power to the team because it is risky and diminishes their control. But it is also motivational and offers more opportunities for growth and advancement.
So how can you empower people and reduce the risk associated with it? Here are some ideas:
1. Tell people what their responsibilities are. Unless people are absolutely clear on what the expectations are for their performance, there’s always the risk that they will misunderstand what your expectations are. Agree those responsibilities and get them to tell you what their level of performance should be. That way, they own more of the results
2. Give them authority equal to their responsibilities. If you want them to carry our specific responsibilities, allow them the authority to make decisions commensurate with that level. Always having to ask permission for trivia will only decrease drive and morale
3. Set standards of excellence. They will follow your example. If that example shows you cutting corners, willing to accept mediocrity or bypassing rules when it doesn’t suit you, they won’t believe your lip-service to commitment to excellence
4. Provide people with training that will enable them meet these standards. Coach and train them relentlessly to achieve the best. No back-up assistance to achieve success will result in excuses and reasons for average performance
5. Give them knowledge and information. Open communication is a pre-requisite for empowerment. Without it, you are practicing ‘mushroom management’ ….. keeping them in the dark and feeding them manure!
6. Provide feedback on performance. Unless they know how they are doing, how will they know they’re on the right track? Allow them to see how they progressing and to take responsibility for improvement
7. Recognise them for their achievements. There has to be something they can aspire to, even if it’s only praise and thank you’s. Without some kind of recognition, what’s the point of empowerment?
8. Trust them. Giving them responsibility means letting go of some of the apron strings and attachment to methodologies. Discuss outcomes, set the ball in motion and let them get on with it
9. Give them permission to fail. If they don’t take risks, they will never grow. Offer the safety net for failure, but encourage decision-making and you’ll see the growth in their performance
10. Treat them with dignity and respect. Many managers still say they need to micromanage or the job won’t get done. That’s more of a reflection on the manager than on the individual they are trying to empower. Respect breeds respect, so allow people the space and opportunity to show how capable they are. They may surprise you.
Empowerment isn’t an abdication of responsibility on your behalf; it’s a recognition of how important your team members are and allows them to show their potential and willingness. By offering this level of connection, you prove the value of each team member and morale can only go one way…upwards!
OK, you’ve made all your plans and you’re convinced that your staff will be receptive to your new ideas. So you decide to delegate some responsibility to your team, knowing that this level of empowerment will be grasped by all of them, as they are all striving for more responsibility and challenge. Besides, we are all in this together, and that means they’ll want to share the burden and help make the department successful, yes?
Well, yes and no.
One common mistake that managers make in this area is to assume that all that it will take to empower a team member is to simply delegate work and assume they have the motivation and commitment to carry it out. It may not be that simple.
We’ve discussed before that taking people out of their comfort zone can cause many people a lot of stress. Empowering some team members may be fearful for them. We get used to things as they are and so resist change. Some of us like the predictability of everyday work, and they may prefer it when you, the boss, make all the decisions.
So what can you do to encourage people to take on more responsibility and become more empowered, when they may have some resistance to it?
First, make sure you have a clear understanding of what is meant by empowerment, and the responsibilities, authority, limits and expectations you have regarding the people who will be participating.
Ensure everyone has a clear picture of what you’re trying to achieve, what your priorities and values are for the team. If the team isn’t clear, expect hesitancy and fear.
Decide on how you will communicate the message of empowerment. Personally? As a team? A meeting? Email? Make sure the methodology fits in with what you’re trying to achieve. In this case, the journey may be more important than the destination
How will people actually make decisions when they have the power to do so? It may be better to formalise the process so everyone knows what’s going on.
By doing all the above, you are more likely to see consistency of results. If the team know what they are doing and why they are doing it, you have more reasons for participation. Let people take some calculated risks, but let them know if they are going in the right direction. You may find some of the team’s decision-makers come out of the woodwork and show their natural leadership abilities.
All empowerment should be an opportunity for individuals to grow and develop in their abilities and skills. Let them have the right tools to communicate effectively, and you’ll see the potential in many team members
Give the individuals who might be shying away from the empowerment you are offering some kind of stability and support. And give it time. You may have the experience of problem-solving and decision-making, communication skills and abilities honed over many years. Remember that your team members may not have your abilities. So be patient and recognise how your team communicate, so you can be at their level and on their wavelength.
By doing all this, you reduce the chances of failure in empowering others and give yourself more opportunities to share the workload while developing their skills.