Today, many companies are looking into empowerment in business, as it can be a solution to boost their productivity and motivate employees.
Empowerment in business is a management practice of sharing information, rewards, and power with employees. This puts them at the heart of the organisation by giving them power and autonomy.
The world of business has been going through a crisis for several years now. And, there have been more and more cases of "brown-out", a syndrome with similar symptoms to a burn-out. This results in employees losing interest in their job, leading to disengagement, discontent, and lethargy.
This shows that employees value when their work is meaningful, and a recent survey from Deloitte and Viadeo in 2018 confirms that 87% of professionals say they have a passion for their current job.
But, what does empowerment mean? What are its benefits for businesses, managers, and employees? And, how do you implement it?
Here are answers to all of your questions on empowerment and some of our best advice on how to use empowerment in business.
What does empowerment mean?
The term empowerment in business means giving more authority to people. This implies both the notion of power, but also the learning process to access it.
Empowerment is about creating working conditions where employees develop the skills to take initiative and exploit their full potential to create value for a company.
This definition shows us the complexity and the stakes involved in the notion of empowerment, as it can have a significant impact on an entire company.
Empowerment revolutionises organisation and corporate culture
Until recently, most corporate structures’ approaches were "top-down”. This means that they emphasized the imperatives and vision of upper management.
A top-down approach is driven by work processes that employees have to carry out, which leaves little room for experimentation.
Using empowerment in business implies moving towards a bottom-up approach. Why?
Because today, businesses must be proactive, flexible and innovative to remain competitive. This can be very difficult to implement if this ongoing process and these initiatives do not come from employees. Harnessing information from the field, combined with the ability to make quick decisions in line with a clear and known corporate vision, is fundamental to get things moving.
More than just a type of management practice, empowerment must be an integral part of corporate culture to work efficiently.
Moreover, it must be part of a global transformation of the company where everyone is immersed in a strong corporate culture, and where empowerment becomes almost an art of living, a philosophy.
The 3 conditions of empowerment: corporate vision, autonomy, and appropriation
Empowerment is built on three conditions: a clear corporate vision, a sense of autonomy and appropriation.
Have a clear corporate vision
Why is it important to have a clear corporate vision before implementing empowerment?
A corporate vision allows a company to share its goals along with a path to follow.
Knowing this vision helps employees to make quick and informed decisions. This helps to develop a sense of belonging where everyone works towards a common goal.
Ultimately, a well-defined corporate vision makes your employees more efficient and motivated.
Here are a few tips to help you create a clear corporate vision:
- involve your employees in its creation. It will be more precise thanks to their business vision and will allow them to adhere and commit themselves in an even more significant way,
- establish a medium-term vision, between 2 and 5 years. This will allow you to refine or revise it constantly,
- find the right balance between reality and optimism to offer a realistic and motivating vision,
- respect the company's values and mission,
- define S.M.A.R.T. objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound). Make sure that you only list a few and they are clear.
Examples of corporate visions:
- to reach 750,000 dollars in turnover on the US market within 2 years;
- receive an ISO9001 certification before the end of the year;
- increase customer satisfaction by 20% by 2022.
Give employees a sense of autonomy
For years, businesses used to implement increasingly detailed and complicated processes to be more productive, often leaving less and less room for autonomy and decision-making.
By using empowerment in business, you are going in the opposite direction by creating space to give your employees a sense of autonomy.
Why does this matter?
Employees need a sense of autonomy to make decisions and take action.
Employee empowerment also means sending a message to the employee that he or she has the abilities, skills, and intelligence to organise the work in such a way as to achieve the objectives set for him or her.
It is a real pledge of confidence that gives the feeling of being valued and useful to the company and gives the desire to become more involved.
When you want to give autonomy, you have to determine a framework beforehand without increasing the workload or giving too many responsibilities. An employee must be free to make mistakes and to experiment, without this having repercussions on his or her job.
Ensure that the empowerment is well appropriated
Every employee is different and will not have the same ability to appropriate this new autonomy that is granted with empowerment.
This appropriation will depend on multiple factors for each employee. This includes their hierarchical position in the company, their job, the company context, their skills, experience, and personal aptitudes.
It is, therefore, necessary to make sure that all stakeholders are comfortable with empowerment, that they feel free to use their skills and are ready to innovate to achieve their goals.
To do this, it is recommended to set up a management style that:
- includes a framework that lists the skills and tasks of every employee,
- gives them the resources to meet their goals (equipment, training, etc.),
- encourages initiative, risk-taking and the right to make mistakes,
- relies on trust by taking a step back and delegating some of its authority,
- acknowledges efforts made and applauds successes,
- measures the efficiency of actions that promote empowerment and adapts them if necessary.
What are the benefits of using empowerment?
Using empowerment means that you will have to make changes to processes and the way your company works. Here are the main benefits that empowerment brings to employees, managers and businesses.
The benefits of using empowerment for employees
The first people to be positively impacted by such a change are employees. They often find more benefit in this type of organisation than in more traditional structures.
The benefits of using employee empowerment for employees include :
- a more positive and supportive view of the workplace,
- a better work-life balance,
- fulfillment by tapping into their full potential and making use of their knowledge, experience and motivation,
- better adaptability, less fear of change,
- employees feel empowered at work through trust and recognition of skills.
The benefits of using empowerment for managers
It is not always easy for a manager to change the way he is used to working in. And, by using empowerment, he will have to give more authority to employees.
Thanks to a role that supports and encourages employees, managers explore a new dimension of their work. It is now more educational and human-oriented.
This mentoring role can be rewarding, and often generates a sense of usefulness.
The benefits of using empowerment for businesses
Companies that have implemented empowerment within their organisation in a professional manner have seen a positive influence on the overall performance of their organisation.
Moreover, in Éric Albert's book Sharing power is possible, we learn that some of these companies have seen their growth increase by 20% in less than six months.
This growth is possible because empowerment improves :
- talent retention, a motivating work environment is essential, and especially for generations Y and Z, who enjoys freedom and flexibility,
- responsiveness to an agile market thanks to a context that encourages quick decision-making,
- the accuracy and relevance of the decisions adopted thanks to a clear corporate vision,
- commitment to the organisation, employees feel more involved, listened to and fulfilled,
- the company's image, because employees who are happy and proud to work for their company will speak well of it to their entourage, customers, etc.,
- job satisfaction and commitment, with fewer absences, sick leaves, and burn-outs.
5 steps to implement empowerment in your business
There is no magic formula when implementing empowerment in your business. However, we have identified 5 steps you can use.
Identify roles and missions
Creating a framework gives every employee a specific role with associated responsibilities. This avoids conflicting decisions and duplicated work from multiple employees.
Here are a few examples :
- make a complete assessment of internal skills to leverage the expertise of your staff. This will allow you to benefit from new skills or to avoid assigning a role that cannot be fulfilled due to a lack of an essential skill,
- verify that employees are in tune with their new field of action,
- ideally integrate them into the process so that they express what they can contribute or what they would like to do.
Provide tools to help your employees meet their goals
By giving your employees more responsibility, it is essential that they have the right tools and skills to achieve their goals.
To help them make decisions and organise their work efficiently, they may need project management tools.
monday.com is an intuitive project management tool that provides visual dashboards including Gantt charts and Kanban boards, to monitor project progress, estimate workloads and monitor budgets.
Moreover, project management solutions such as Wrike will allow them to monitor deadlines and dependencies of their teams to get an overview of their projects.
Finally, your employees might need training to help them develop skills required to carry out their missions or to acquire new ones that may be useful for the development of your business.
Here are a few examples:
- organising training sessions with a specialist or a colleague with the desired skills,
- offering access to an e-learning platform,
- scheduling a fixed amount of training hours per month or year.
Set up a feedback system
Using a feedback system has many benefits.
On one hand, you can collect valuable business information for your company because it often reflects the reality of the market.
On the other hand, it allows you to measure whether this new concept of empowerment is well integrated by each employee. If this is not the case, you can then know what the needs are and implement concrete actions to meet them.
Here are a few examples:
- interview managers constantly (weekly, bi-monthly or monthly) to find out how they feel and what their needs are,
- set up a system to share important information quickly to employees via email, chat or other means.
Establish a culture initiative and the right to make mistakes
Sanctioning or undermining your employees for an unmet goal is counterproductive for your company.
To take risks and be proactive, your employees must feel empowered to show leadership.
You need to value risk-taking and innovation because it is by doing that you learn. Encourage your employees to test what works and what doesn't, and to make mistakes: they are rich in lessons learned.
Here are a few examples:
- say thank you, congratulate or reward your employees when they perform well,
- when a project doesn't go as planned, don't hesitate to take the time to analyse the reasons and share them in the form of a case study so that the same thing doesn't happen again,
- executives, HR and other managers can get into the habit of admitting when one of their tests was inconclusive to play down the myth of the fatal mistake and learn positive and constructive lessons from it.
Guide your teams
All of the practices listed above will help you to successfully implement empowerment in your business.
But do not lose sight of the fact that implementing empowerment is a big adjustment and that like any change, you need to guide your teams.
We recommend preparing this adjustment several months in advance, by making your employees aware of :
- what empowerment is,
- how it works,
- what will change,
- what's in it for them and the company,
- what actions are going to be taken,
- what is expected of them, and so on.
This can be done through additional, well-orchestrated internal communication efforts.
For example, you can:
- organise introductory meetings,
- set up an email campaign,
- set up a telephone line or slots to ask questions,
- share an FAQ,
- create quizzes to test your teams’ knowledge about empowerment
Empowerment: a management style full of potential
Empowerment is a process that lets employees find a sense of meaning in their work, and allows a business to count on more motivated, committed and productive employees.
It is a major adjustment that can bring many benefits to a company and its employees if a solid empowerment strategy is in place.
If empowerment is implemented properly and follows good practices, it can be a key lever for growth and employee commitment.
What about you? Have you already implemented empowerment in your business? Have you seen improvements? Feel free to share your experience in the comment section below, we would be delighted to discuss it.