So what actually is ‘empowerment’?
Empowerment is where employees are given the responsibility for making decisions about their own work. These decisions can be small or large depending on the level of empowerment a manager wants to give, and may include:
• What work they do (eg employees are free to manage their own workload/diary)
• Where they work (eg working from home instead of at the office)
• When they work (eg the ability to work flexible hours)
• How they complete their work (eg how they structure information in a presentation)
It’s always worth remembering the 80:20 principle: 80% of the benefit is created from 20% of the work. As a manager, your job is to identify the 20% of decisions that will really make the difference, and focus efforts on that, rather than constantly trying to change the 80% of things that aren’t worth it and demoralising your staff in the process.
Creating an empowered environment
Here are some practical ways to create an empowered environment, summed up by using our ‘EMPOWER’ acronym:
Expectations Set clear expectations, defining what is needed by when, and outline any ‘must have’ criteria. Also agree expectations of when you will meet to review progress.
My responsibility Set clear boundaries, ensure that employees understand what falls within their boundary of responsibility to do and make decisions on.
Pareto principle This is also known as the 80:20 rule, ie. you should look for the 20% of decisions that will make 80% of the difference and give people freedom with the other 80%.
Open and approachable Make your self accessible when people need support. If things go wrong, ensure that your team feel you are approachable and that you work together to resolve the issue. Create a no-blame culture and help people to learn from their mistakes.
What (not how) Understand that people will perform best if they are given the freedom to work the way they want to work, and remember it’s the output that matters. For example, if someone does their best work while listening to music through headphones, let them do it unless there’s a valid reason not to.
Encourage knowledge sharing The more informed people are, the better decisions they can make. If you create a culture where staff will inform their managers about the decisions they take, the managers can take action in the event that the decision was inappropriate.
Risk-assess Teach people to risk-assess their own decisions. Before making a decision on their own, team members should consider whether this decision should consider whether this decision will have any legal, safety, reputational or financial implications if they get it wrong. If not, this is a rule of thumb that your staff can make the decision on their own.
Part of being good at empowering people is knowing when it’s appropriate to do it, and when it isn’t. Can you give someone too much empowerment? Yes! It’s crucial to note that a manager can devolve his or her responsibility for management. Even the most motivated and capable employees require management.
Empowerment can bring workplace satisfaction for both employee and manager. Managers should empower on a case-by-case basis, depending on the person’s skill and will.
Excerpted from Management: A Practical Guide, by Alison and David Price. Published by Icon Books UK, £6.99. Excerpt is published here with permission of the publishers.