What do Google, Zappos and Disney all have in common? Yes, they're all hugely successful companies - but it's more about how they became so successful. They all go to great lengths to empower their employees.
And they are not alone. More and more companies are waking up to the fact that giving employees more power and responsibility can bring huge benefits for both the company and its workers.
Small businesses have typically been a bit more reluctant to embrace empowerment and it's hardly surprising. Empowering staff means sharing responsibility with them, and when your business is your baby I'm well aware it can be hard to let go.
But once I started looking into it, it became clear that empowering my team could actually be one of the best things I ever did...
What does empowering employees mean?
Empowerment is about giving your employees more responsibility and showing that you trust them - whether it's to manage their time, manage projects or just do things their own way.
But it's more than just that. You need to give staff the tools they need to do their jobs properly and support them in learning new skills - after all it will benefit you as well as them.
What are the benefits?
The benefits of empowering employees are seemingly endless, with Google et al regularly praising its transformative effect.
Having read quite a lot on the topic some of the main benefits seem to include:
- Improved communication: Staff feel like you trust and value their opinions and are more open to approaching you with ideas or concerns.
- Productivity: Giving people ownership of tasks and projects spurs them on to complete them - and want to do a good job.
- 'Can do' attitude among staff: There's nothing like a confidence boost to motivate people. Once your team see what a good job they can do leading a project or managing their own work, the more they'll want to push themselves.
- Increased innovation: Giving staff freedom encourages them to think creatively and you never know what amazing ideas they might come up with and how they will benefit your business.
- High employee morale: As we all know, high employee morale brings with it benefits of its own, including increased productivity and better retention rates.
- Happy customers: If staff are performing at their best, they're more likely to be keeping customers happy, which can only be a good thing for your business.
How to empower employees
So how do you actually go about empowering your employees? Surely, provided you don't micromanage them and you treat them like adults they should feel empowered on a daily basis simply doing their job to the best of their ability?
To a degree I guess this is true, but if you want to get the very best from them, I think there's a lot we can learn from the big companies who have been doing it for years...
- Encourage creativity: Google is a world leader in terms of innovation and a lot of this comes down to nurturing the creativity of its employees. Google Cafes in each office encourage people from various departments to mix with one another and share ideas, while engineers are given a percentage of their time each week to dedicate to things that interest them and explore their own ideas.
For smaller companies, giving employees a percentage of time to work on their own ideas probably isn't realistic. But what we can do is let our employees know that we'd like them to email us with any ideas they have. Or, if you have an office, you could introduce an ideas box or hold a few gather rounds where people bounce ideas off one another (remember not to shoot down any ideas though, otherwise they won't be forthcoming!).
Be sure to provide regular updates on the ideas that have been put forward, even if it's simply to say that it's not viable at this time. Of course there will be plenty that won't fly for various reasons, but you may get a few gems.
- Reward good work. I always intend to praise staff for a job well done, but unfortunately more often than I'd like it gets forgotten about in the day-to-day hectic-ness. This is definitely something I need to work on - truly empowered employees get their confidence from knowing they are doing a good job and even small rewards can make a huge difference
- Ask about your employees' skills: you may have employed someone for their customer service skills, but that person may also love writing, or be a whizz on social media. By asking about their interests and skills and allowing them to develop those skills while at work, for example, by writing blog posts or setting up and running your company Twitter account, it can be beneficial for your employees and your business.
- Hand out responsibility: This is something I find particularly hard, but it's a necessary part of empowering your team. Start small - delegate some tasks to one of your most trusted members of staff and remember, no interfering! Just because someone does things differently to you it doesn't mean they are wrong.
- Be a good leader: Setting a good example to your team is one way to empower them. For my part, I'm trying to be more positive, communicate better with staff and keep them up to date with goings on in the business and setting clear expectations for them. This article on Forbes has some great advice on how to empower your employees through leadership.
What are your thoughts on empowering your employees? Let me know in the comments.