“Empowering” employees sounds like a phony recruitment tactic.
How is a business supposed to make employees feel inspired? It doesn’t seem very realistic.
But at its core, employee empowerment is simply the practice of giving employees the autonomy to make decisions on matters related to their work.
The concept stems from the notion that when authority and resources are given to employees—in line with accountability and responsibility—it increases productivity, competence, and job satisfaction.
This translates into happy employees, high-quality work, and ultimately, growth for the company. And it’s not as difficult to implement as you might think.
Tech companies are great examples of putting empowerment into practice—they require a lot of creativity to stay competitive, so giving employees the freedom to make their own decisions about their work is actually a great way to spur that creativity.
In other words, they empower their employees to not only work the way they want to but also the way that’s most productive for the company.
This makes tech companies the perfect case studies to illustrate current tactics and help you understand how to implement employee empowerment in your own business.
Here, we’ll go through some of the most important principles you can start incorporating today.
6 Employee Empowerment Principles
1. Vision Alignment
The most important step to employee empowerment is sharing the company’s vision with employees.
Think about it: the point of empowering employees is to encourage them to make autonomous decisions that align with the goals of the business.
So if employees don’t know what those goals are…
Communicate the vision, mission, objectives, expectations, and strategies of the business to all your employees, then give them the freedom to do what it takes to reach those goals.
Whether in the form of an initial meeting upon hire or a written employee handbook (ideally, a combination of both), giving employees this information is crucial.
Adobe’s employee handbook clearly defines the goals and responsibilities to their workers and then lets them work without micromanaging. In turn, they’ve harnessed incredible creative innovation from their employees while keeping them engaged and happy.
Their Adobe Life blog follows the stories of some of their employees, showcasing their job satisfaction and talents.
2. Employee Engagement
It’s not enough to just hand an employee a pamphlet on your goals and vision; part of empowering them is actually involving them in the setting of those goals and strategies.
This can take the form of roundtable-like brainstorming meetings with a department or individual goal setting meetings with individual employees—either way, take note of goals and ideas and implement the ones that prove successful.
Steve Jobs always involved employees in the “innovation cycle.” That is, he welcomed ideas from any employee, not just from a particular group of people at the top of the totem pole.
His approach: the best ideas win, not the person with the most power or seniority. In turn, Jobs developed loyal employees that still churn out some of the most creative tech out there.
Even if employees have great ideas and a strong work ethic, they can’t really be successful without the right resources.
You need to give employees everything they need to make the right decisions: information, tools, training, budgets, feedback, and more.
This starts with a great onboarding process that incorporates new hires and trains them not only in skills but in the culture and vision of the company, and then equips them with what they need to do their jobs well.
“Google operates on the belief that people are fundamentally good,” says Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations. Not only does Google trust their employees to make their own decisions, but they go on to empower them with an abundance of resources that range from workspace supplies, to food, to mental health support.
You don’t just want to make your employees feel trusted, you want to actually trust them—that they have the best interest of the company at heart and are capable of making the right decisions.
Trusting employees doesn’t mean there’s a lack of consequences; it just simply means there’s no micromanaging happening without reason. Give employees some space to learn and grow and only scale back their freedom as it becomes necessary.
At Netflix, the only existing policy for employees is to simply act in the company’s best interest.
No expense limits or tracking employees. They trust workers to operate their best judgment in situations and trust they aren’t there to rip the company off.
Accountability is a vital part of employee empowerment. Regular and consistent feedback helps shape employees to understand how to continue making positive strides for the company, while still keeping their autonomy.
Continually building trust by communicating clearly with employees will reduce their confusion about projects and open lines for voicing questions and concerns—which translates into better work that aligns with the company’s goals.
Buffer traded annual performance reviews for weekly feedback sessions, a form of one-on-one coaching where employees can ask questions, talk through projects, and get more guidance.
Instead of having a looming annual meeting, problems are more easily solved in the moment as employee trust and investment grows.
6. Reward and Recognition
Employees who feel they are valued members of the bigger company picture are going to be more invested and perform better. An easy way to show appreciation is celebrating and rewarding good ideas publicly and privately.
Even failures can be recognized in a creative and less punitive way to highlight the benefit of taking small risks.
theSkimm’s “Failure of the Week” calls out and encourages employees to take risks and fail safely. Employees are still recognized for taking risks, even when it doesn’t necessarily work out.
In the spirit of growing from failure, the best “failure” of the week is rewarded with a gift card.
Employee empowerment isn’t as complicated as it sounds. If you’re aiming to boost innovation and productivity, start utilizing some of these principles.
Remember—it all starts during the hiring and onboarding process. Communicating your company’s vision and intentions at the forefront is going to kickstart empowerment, and continuing to nurture their progress will push your employees to be their best.
Whether you’re a big tech firm or a 2-person small business, empowering and investing in your employees will ensure they will get the job done and be successful.
The advice we share on our blog is intended to be informational. It does not replace the expertise of accredited business professionals.
Author: Owen McGab Enaohwo is the CEO and Co-Founder of SweetProcess, an intuitive business process management software to make tracking and documenting tasks simpler.