Empowerment of Others

empowermentAs any business or organization begins to grow, there comes a point where the leadership begins to realize that they cannot do or control everything themselves. They must begin to delegate tasks and responsibilities to others; but of equal importance, is to empower those individuals. Empowerment in the simplest terms means to treat people not as employees, but as partners.

This idea of partnering or empowerment is expressed by Starbucks in the employment sectionempowerment of their website which states, “Being a Starbucks partner means having the opportunity to be something more than an employee. Gigantic possibilities lie ahead—to grow as a person, in your career and in your community. To live the Starbucks mission and to be a leader. It’s the opportunity to become your personal best. To be connected to something bigger. To be meaningful to the world. And to be recognized for all of it. It’s all here for you.”

Of course, empowerment means letting go. In many cultures, the leader is expected to be the smartest person in the organization. They must be the ultimate solver of problems and issues. Within this culture, employees are not expected to solve problems and, in many cases, just present them to the boss to resolve. Several years ago, I joined the management team of a privately-owned company where the founder still acted as the CEO. During our first staff meeting, I was exposed to a very different type of agenda and one which is not compatible with empowerment. The CEO simply went around the table and asked each participant to report on activities in their area of responsibility. With each report came an issue or problem, which seemed to be the expectation.  At the conclusion of each report, the CEO would then either solve the problem presented or outline a path to its solution.

On the opposite extreme and more in line with empowerment, a nonprofit leader was deluged by staff coming to her office with problems for her to resolve. Her solution was to never do as my CEO friend did at staff meetings, but insist that staff members bring at least two solutions to the problem. Not only did this approach reduce visitors to her office, but it also empowered the staff to better analyze the situations and work together on finding the best solution.

valuesBefore launching into employee empowerment there are some issues to consider:

  1. As part of any business planning process, a set of Values needs to be developed. Those who will be empowered need to understand those values and how they affect the decision they are asked to make.
  2. Decisions need to be made within the context of a business or strategic plan. That plan needs to be shared by those involved. That might not be a complete disclosure of every aspect of the plan, but at least vision and mission. Where are we going and how do we see us getting there.
  3. Only give power to those who have demonstrated the capacity to handle responsibility. Be careful because there are often employees who are great workers who do not seek or desire that power. They are great at performing tasks but are not motivated beyond that point. Consider a great surgeon who might not be interested in administration of the hospital.
  4. Be sure that those involved have a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities.
  5. Create a favorable environment in which people are encouraged to grow their skills. Note the Starbuck’s statement above. Also consider the difference in the environment created by the CEO, discussed above in his staff meeting and the nonprofit leader whose staff were looking for problem resolutions.
  6. Be sure that those being empowered have the information necessary to make decisions. That information may be in the form of standard procedures or performance data required to understand the situation.
  7. Never second guess a decision. Coach but don’t instruct.

We also want to encourage you to read an article by Marshall Goldsmith in the April 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review. It is entitled, Empowering Your Employees to Empower Themselves.

As one moves forward on empowering employees it may be necessary to better understand the existing culture within an organization. It would be advisable to consider an assessment of the organizational culture and individuals’ attributes. Contact us to explore the importance of and possibilities in this area. bob@plangoals.com