Empower your people: the key to successful change delivery
Reading Time 6 mins
People empowerment is a significant factor in modern workplace culture, and this has come into even sharper focus in a post-pandemic workplace. A study by Gallup indicates that teams who score in the top 20% in empowerment generate an average of 21% greater profitability, show a 41% reduction in absenteeism, and 59% less attrition.
Organisations keen to achieve similar results first need to understand what employee empowerment actually looks like. Many companies view empowerment as linked to the individual feelings of their people. They conduct internal surveys and offer perks and incentives in an attempt to shift the results. Successful organisations understand that employee empowerment is not an abstract idea. It consists of concrete behaviours derived from clear expectations set by the organisation and backed by the necessary tools and support.
“Staff empowerment is an evolving process. It is important for leaders and employees to find the right balance.”Andrew Quake, Webhelp APAC Chief Growth Officer
Empowerment has an enormous effect on the bottom line, too. An exhaustive report by The Engagement Institute - a joint study by The Conference Board, Sirota-Mercer, Deloitte, ROI, The Culture Works and Consulting LLP – shows that disempowered employees cost U.S. companies up to $550 billion a year. Interestingly, the majority of respondents recognise why they are not fully empowered. They list compelling missions, highly trusted relationships, and well-designed jobs as things they are looking for leadership to provide. This is another reason why communication is crucial to a healthy organisational culture – your people will tell you what they need in order to be empowered, if you listen to them.
What does empowerment mean?
In business, empowerment involves understanding the human element of the work environment, to create an environment in which managers and their people can work together to succeed.
An empowered company understands this human element implicitly and appreciates that it can greatly contribute to – or subtract from – the organisation’s bottom line. Empowerment is ultimately the responsibility of a company to ensure that all employees are respected as intelligent as well as responsible.
Why do companies fail to empower their people?
“It’s important to select the right empowerment method for the right candidate.”Celine Chan, Webhelp APAC Managing Director
An organisation may fail to empower its people for several reasons. Here are the main factors we have identified:
Not all employees need the same form of empowerment
A recent study by Harvard Business Review shows a number of factors can influence how empowerment efforts might affect people, from tenure to geography. For example, those colleagues with a shorter tenure seem to respond more positively to empowering leadership than those with longer tenure - whilst Eastern organisations find that empowering leadership results in greater improvements in routine performance than corresponding Western organisations.
The workplace culture is not set up to accommodate empowerment
A more common situation, but one with plenty of complexity. There are many reasons why an organisation might not be ready to support the changes needed for people empowerment:
* Leadership reluctance
* Insufficient understanding from the leadership
* Lack of infrastructure or support mechanisms
* Unclear clarification on roles and responsibility
* Inconsistency in actions and words
Delegation does not equal empowerment
Empowerment does not simply mean giving your people extra responsibility and leaving them to get on with it. Being allowed to make your own decision plays a big part of it - but true empowerment still requires boundaries, rules, and guidance.
Empowerment is a two-way path
Although some responsibility falls upon employees to embrace empowerment with an open mind, leaders should also take the responsibility of letting go, trusting their people, and providing the necessary guidance. Both groups must accept that mistakes can and will happen, and embrace the changes that come from it.
What empowerment looks like
“Empowerment is not about saying but doing. Actions speak louder than words. Active listening and putting into actions are the way to truly empower your employees.”Mark Palmer, CEO of Gobeyond Partners
Empowerment takes many different forms across the workplace, and across the world:
Delegation has greater impact in Asia
From our experience, colleagues in Eastern societies respond more positively than Western colleagues to displays of trust from their line managers and company directors.
This trust can take the form of ownership of projects, taking the lead in running meetings, and supporting them to overcome challenges. This positive response manifests itself in numerous ways, from increased participation in discussions, greater confidence in sharing ideas, and even something as simple as switching on the camera in a video conference.
Objective measurements and fair evaluation
Using a systematic and data-driven approach to measuring performance improvement can lead to an average improvement of between 15% and 20%. To support this, a clearly defined and transparent communication structure is required. Everyone in the team should have a view on how to evaluate both team and individual performances. In doing so, creating a healthy competition environment to drive improvement - by not only managers, but also by individual colleagues.
Coaching, not telling
Building trust is essential to allowing an organisation’s people to feel empowered. This can be developed by encouraging managers to not simply provide solutions and answers, but celebrate a collaborative environment in which colleagues share criticisms and ideas - to take greater ownership and accountability, and provide managers a clearer vision to support their people.
Working outside the strict boundaries of an individual’s job description, and leveraging their wealth of knowledge and expertise, empowers the individual to have faith in their own abilities - becoming more creative and thoughtful with their input and suggestions.
“It doesn’t really matter if the employee has no experience. The most important is that the managers and employees are both open to learn and accept that mistake may happen. As long as we all have the right attitude and mentality, employees will be empowered through the journey.”Celine Chan, Webhelp APAC Managing Director
Open and supportive environments
In order for any of these approaches to flourish, the organisation itself needs to actively create a safe environment for allowing its people to share ideas, experiment, and improve upon past experiences. Regular 1-1s can identify opportunities for trying out and improving ideas. Line managers and senior leaders can cultivate this environment by displaying curiosity, engaging their people, and recognising the behaviour.
There is no one size fits all approach to creating an organisation that allows its people to feel empowered. The finer details need to be worked out on an individual or group basis. The important things to get right each time, however, are deceptively simple:
- Senior leaders and line managers need to be consistent in their approach.
- They also need to be adaptive to their people’s needs.
- A support mechanism is necessary.
- Regular coaching and communication are crucial.
If you’d like to know more about how to develop an empowering culture in your organisation, feel free to get in touch.
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