Virtually every business decision is a matter of investment and success is based on how companies deploy resources like employee time, capital and brand image. The authority to make independent decisions is also a type of resource that can and should be invested by delegating it to team members.

Overview: What is empowerment?

Employee empowerment is practically a buzzword at this point, but this term actually represents a very real and important concept in the field of business management. Learning how to effectively delegate and empower other members of the company is one of the most important and most difficult things for business leaders to learn.

4 benefits of empowerment

Making the move to empower employees is a lot less frightening if you take a look at some of the amazing benefits.

1. More adaptive operations

Empowering employees to make decisions and implement solutions on their own has the immediate benefit of creating more adaptive operations. This means less disruptions due to variations in input or procedure.

2. Developing innovation

Empowerment lays the groundwork for a pathway of innovation. Shifting from a workplace where employees simply follow orders to one where they independently apply their expertise and skill can produce profound transformation.

3. Building mutual trust

When companies are willing to delegate real authority to their employees they also demonstrate a level of trust. This is the only way to really start building a cooperative relationship between the company and its employees that will stand the test of time.

4. Investments in future leaders

Empowering team members at all levels of an organization is the only way to really develop your own leaders. Empowerment opens a door to upward momentum within the organization, which helps attract and keep desirable talent.

Why is empowerment important to understand?

Empowering employees is often essential for creating a strong and growing enterprise, but it’s a tool that must be handled with care and intent.

The micromanagement trap

Micromanagement and empowerment are contradictory. Part of the pain of delegating responsibility is accepting that people won’t always do it correctly or in exactly the same way. Leaders need to learn the difference between a best practice and a personal preference.

Lanes and latitude

Empowering employees increases the risk that they might not “stay in their lane,” which inevitably produces conflicts with each other. Leaders need to set very clear lanes and limits on latitude so that empowerment doesn’t lead to chaos.

Relating risk and reward

Every process has inherent risk to the person doing it and the people liable for it. Companies are often liable for the decisions their employees make, which means empowerment should always follow experience and proven ability.

An industry example of empowerment

A local supermarket often receives complaints about slow customer service from their checkout lanes. After an evaluation, the company realizes that the representatives working at this station spend a large portion of their time waiting for a manager to clear certain actions or decisions.

The company decides to empower their customer service staff by allowing them to check for counterfeit currency on their own and accept returns up to $100 without supervision. These basic changes would eliminate over half of the incidents that would normally lead to a multi-minute wait time.

Since these increased responsibilities also increase the chance of liability, the store also converts the customer service desk into a senior position. This means the position is only available for employees with at least two years of experience working at the location.

3 best practices when thinking about empowerment

A few basic practices can ensure you get the most out of your efforts to empower employees.

1. Avoid superficial empowerment

Real empowerment actually gives other people some measure of freedom and authority they didn’t have before. Pushing fake empowerment will only discourage and disillusion team members.

2. Lay a foundation in training

Training and experience should always come before empowerment, otherwise you are simply setting your people up to fail. Companies should always invest money and time into their employees before investing them with authority.

3. Stay customer-oriented

Empowering employees should still be done with the customer in mind. You need to think about how you are empowering specific employees to provide specific value additions to the final deliverable.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about empowerment

What are different types of empowerment?

Empowerment can take many different forms depending on the people and processes in question. Empowerment may be in the form of deleted authority over a team, permission to conduct certain operations alone or simply the space to make your own decisions.

Should companies empower all their employees?

Empowerment is purely positive when done in a timely and intentional fashion. Companies should empower employees as much as possible with compromising core values.

How do you start empowering people in the workplace?

It’s always better to start slow and to have a plan. Empowerment should be the deliberate result of strategic decisions that reflect the direction that leaders want to take their company.

The power behind success

Many of the most successful business people in history are the ones that mastered the art of delegation and employee empowerment. People are the most important resource and asset a company has, so it only makes sense to invest as much as possible in their development. Empowerment builds loyalty, develops leadership and creates more effective processes, so it’s a critical principle in Six Sigma practices.

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