Employees: The Other Half of Employee Empowerment

Employee empowerment is the current darling of the business world.

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Depending on who you talk to, empowering employees will increase profits, reduce turnover, and possibly create world peace (I made that last one up).

I agree that profitability can improve with increased employee empowerment, but thus far, the onus for this has been placed on management to do the “empowering.” The part that has not been addressed yet is what to do if the employee won’t pursue or accept the responsibility for their success.

The current statistics on employee engagement from Gallup and Harvard (31% engaged at last look) are almost as low as people’s view of their government and seemingly as difficult to improve. While every two years (in the U.S. at least) we have the chance to throw out one-third of our politicians, we never do and if we did, little would change anyway.

Most businesses could turnover their workforce as they desire, but without improving both the leadership philosophy and the timbre of new employees, the results would be similar.

The worst part is that leadership and management teams are letting this happen; not intentionally, but as a result of unprofitable routines and procedures. The positive side is that these routines can be improved, and with them, profitability. In this article I will propose a method that clearly shows how to address this in a manner that is non-threatening to and productive for all parties involved.

Success Looks Like

The first thing any manager or leader who wants to improve her organization must do is to define what success looks like. I don’t just mean setting goals, but establishing a summary or visualization of what success looks, feels, sounds, even smells like. Make it something your employees can experience and not just read or listen too.

Once this visual is created in the minds of others, I recommend explaining it in writing with bullet points, charts, graphs, process visuals and pictures. Keep it light on formality but heavy on meaning. Reinforce the visualization you created with these words and images.

Once the this is completed at the highest levels in the company, the managers will take this concept to their direct reports where it will be refined and adapted to their specific functions. 

Measures of Success

Using this visualization technique and the subsequent details in the form of words, charts, and pictures, the line directors and managers must translate the vision into actionable goals with appropriate measures of success. The trite saying “you can’t manage it if you can’t measure it” may be true but I will take it one step further, “If you can’t define it, you can’t measure it.”

From these measures of success, suitable and meaningful goals for the business, its departments, and the individual contributors can be created. These measures of success should contain simple, declarative statements of what is to be achieved. The methods of attaining them should not be included.

Timing

The next segment in the process is to define the time limits or at least to establish a time frame for achieving success that can be agreed to by all parties. These time limits could be  set for each item of success or for the complete project. I prefer setting limits for the entire project since individual segments of a project are difficult to define before the actual work begins in earnest.

Joint Accountability

This is the portion of most goal setting and planning sessions that is glossed-over or forgotten altogether. Nothing will be accomplished by just one party doing all of the work. Both sides must row in the same direction, with each pulling their own weight, for success to occur. It is necessary to define what each side of this partnership is responsible for if the desired results are to be attained.

The act of defining joint accountability acts to bind parties more closely together in a mutually supporting partnership. It also empowers the employees with the resources needed to accomplish what they are asked.

Employer

The employer, leader, manager, director, etc. must be part of the process and provide support to their employees. This support can be in the form of budget, an extra set of hands, a larger work-space, a dedicated meeting room, or use of an administrative assistant to help with coordinating work activities.

It is unethical to hold an employee accountable for something and withhold the tools and funds necessary to accomplish it. By documenting what the employer will contribute, it empowers the employee to use her talents and skills to devise a method for success.

Employee

The employee, on the other hand, must also contribute to the joint accountability. It is obvious that the results defined above are required. In addition to these, the employee could be responsible to:

  • Report at certain intervals using a formalized structure or procedure.
  • Spend extra time, their own or the company’s, to attain new skills.
  • Regularly attend higher level meetings to report progress and to learn how the company actually works.
  • Communicate progress to a larger than typical audience to show progress, and gain skills and exposure to the larger business.

Implement Profitable Habits

These Profitable Habits can be used to guide and improve your entire business or a single employee. It can be a proactive tool for continued improvement or reactive to help turn around a failing project, team, or firm. The concept here is to create a partnership between parties so they can achieve the desired results as opposed to the “us and them” conversation.

The best guidance is still to hire good people, explain the goals and limits to them, and get out of their way to let them achieve greatness. These methods and tools can assist you in creating this environment.

I’ve developed a series of Profitable Habits that address the core effectors of profitability –  communication, managerial expertise, and business disciplines. My new eBook, “The Profit Imperative” provides a complete treatment of these profitable habits.

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