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The Power of Empowering Employees

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Recently I had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Aspen Creek. I usually have the habit of ordering one of several dishes that I typically enjoy. This visit I noticed the menu had changed and there were a few new options. I went ahead and ordered one of the new dishes. When it was served, it looked really good and smelled great, but after taking two bites, it wasn’t something I really cared for. I saw a few others around me enjoying it, but it was just not what I expected. My server asked if I like it and I told her, “not really.” Without asking me any particulars, or why I didn’t like it, she said, “No problem, I can take it back and get you something else, what would you like?” I decided I would go to my standby meal. Within a few minutes, I had my replacement meal. My server said, “I’m sorry you didn’t like the pot roast, would you like a free dessert for the inconvenience?” Of course, I said yes.

I did not have to wait for someone to “Get the manager.” The server did not have to waste a bunch of her time finding the manager. I did not have to explain the reason for my displeasure. I was offered a free dessert for the inconvenience. Yet there was nothing that they did wrong, it was just my preference that caused me to dislike what I ordered.

In contrast, at another restaurant, just this past week, I had to wait over 20 minutes to get a channel changed on a television in front of me, because I wanted to watch a sporting event I saw on another TV on the opposite side of the building. I asked why the manager had to be involved, why can’t she just change the channel. The answer; “He won’t let anyone else do it, we have to get him to do it every time.” When the manager eventually did show up, he acted annoyed and irritated. The server apologized to him twice for bothering him and he looked very upset. Of course, I missed the first six rounds of the boxing match that I wanted to watch.

No one ever apologized, nor said anything to me about the lengthy delay, nor even acknowledged my existence after that, except to just drop off the check in front of me with no comment or even a look. After that incident, I started to look around at every employee who walked through, and never, during the remaining 30 minutes of my visit, did I see any of the employees smile or appear happy in anyway.

Yes, I know you probably don’t own a restaurant. However, running any business that requires interactions with customers has the potential for problems to occur. Back in the old days when I first hired at the RCA Service Company as a Service Manager, it was less than a week when my field service technicians were aware of my existence and started calling me asking what they should do, because there was a customer service complaint or problem. I was still green and had no clue as to what was going on, yet these people wanted me to make decisions about things that I knew virtually nothing about? I would just respond with asking them what they would do, then tell them just do that. I finally had a meeting with everyone and explain that I did not need to be involved in every little thing. They now had the authority to make decisions in the field without my approval and that I would let them know if things got out of hand. I then realized in that meeting that my predecessor was the one who created this, because he had the need to micro-manage everything. It took a little bit of time for my team to get accustomed to being empowered. Sure, they made mistakes, but, it was okay, mistakes happen during the process of changing people’s habits.

It typically takes more than a meeting or two to change the habits of employees and managers. It is a lot more complex and sometimes difficult to empower people to make their own decisions and be more involved in the process of change, but it is worth it. The idea of stopping the act of micromanaging is a difficult task and must come from the top of the organization. The rule of “I just want everyone to do things my way” with no other options, never works in an environment that requires fast responses to the needs of the customer while trying to keep productivity and performance levels up.

Empowering employees is a culture shift, especially if the team has been restricted due to micromanagement. Traditionally, the role of the manager was to keep processes and people under tight control to make sure everyone was following the prescribed methods. Employees behavior is closely monitored and controlled. Nothing is done without approval. Fortunately, there are much better ways of running a business.

Managers and supervisors probably feel like they are stuck somewhere between imposing complete control and to the extreme, complete anarchy. This is where implementing and creating an empowered workforce must be designed specifically for the needs of your business. For example: You may have encountered challenges with some employees not getting signatures on documents or their tablets before leaving. Instead of just immediately reacting with threats or penalties. It may resolve the problem better to ask the offending employee why this is happening and how he or she can keep the problem from arising again. You would allow them the opportunity to resolve the problem within an expected time. After that period of agreed time, the employee would then know and would have agreed during the first meeting, that there was going to be consequences. In the traditional way of management, the employee would not have the opportunity to resolve the issue. Instead he would receive discipline with no opportunity to come up with a solution.

When implementing change of any kind it is important to get buy-in from everyone and soliciting ideas from everyone is essential to success. When deciding to give your team additional responsibility, it is important to understand that there will be a transition period. During this transition period, people will make mistakes, people will still ask for permission, and some of your team members may push back on the idea. This is normal.

Not sure if your team is empowered or not? Here is a simple checklist to go through:

In an unempowered workplace:

  • People are not very excited or happy about what they do
  • People usually are negative
  • People only do enough to get by
  • People do not speak openly about problems or ideas
  • People are suspicious of the company and others on their job
  • People do not help each other

Unempowered people have the following feelings:

  • They don’t matter
  • They should keep quiet and not share ideas
  • Not much of their skills are needed
  • No one cares about what they want or need
  • Fear getting in trouble

Empowered people have the following feelings:

  • They feel like they make a difference
  • They know that they are responsible for their results
  • They are part of a team
  • They can use their full talents and abilities
  • They have control over how they do their jobs
  • They take initiative
  • They want the organization to do well and meet objectives

To make things happen and get your entire team on the same page, working for a common goal, they must feel empowered. The “Us or Them” mentality needs to disappear. The business team must be a collaborative relationship between all employees. Every team member must feel like a co-creator of the success of the business. They need to share in planning, implementation, metrics, accountability, and of course, the rewards of success.

If you would like more information on how to implement changes in your workplace or create a more collaborative and empowered workforce, contact me directly through email at

Frank Besednjak

Posted In: Management

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