Empowerment Is More Important Than Ever

In A Crisis, You Need To Be Able To Rely Completely On Your Employees.

By Steve Schumacher

For decades, the management literature told leaders to delegate and empower employees. There are many benefits to leaders, employees, and entire organizations when those things happen regularly. Employees develop skills, leaders are freed up to work on big picture issues, and organizations are able to move forward more quickly because of the breadth of problem-solving.

Leaders can struggle with empowering their employees for various reasons. Some people perceive that if they give up decision-making, they lose power. Others have a hard time letting go because they advanced through an organization by being a good problem solver and find it tough to break that habit. Other leaders struggle empowering employees because they do not know how to do it properly.

Even in normal times, empowering employees and giving them more freedom can be a challenge while providing many benefits. With businesses struggling, it is imperative that employees are free to make decisions without a lot of layers of bureaucracy to go through. Time and money are of the essence when business is off, staff is reduced, and budgets are skimpier than usual. As a leader, it is up to you to ratchet up your efforts to empower your employees to a greater degree than you have in the past.

Teach your employees to take on more decision-making. Everyone has been, and will continue to be, impacted by the crises of 2020. Leaders need to learn to let go more often and more quickly. Employees need to build their confidence in decision-making and be comfortable working out of the box they had previously been in. Your high potential employees will most likely thrive in this new environment as they will be stretched and tested. Enlist their help in working with other employees who may be more locked into day-to-day average performance.

Be clear on what empowerment means. Remember, you are still accountable for the decisions that come out of your group, even if one of your employees made it. It is important that you know the strengths and weaknesses of your employees prior to giving them new decision-making freedom. When it comes to empowerment, play to the strengths of your employees. When we get through these crises, you can work to develop your employees through empowerment. Now, it is important that decisions are made in a timely and quality manner. If you have someone who is good with budgets, increase their decision-making parameters. If another employee is skilled with quality control, expand what they are allowed to do in that arena. Try not to grab the nearest body to make decisions. You will regret it in the long run. Big picture decisions are probably best kept to yourself. You know what your superiors expect and inspect.

Coaching. Once you decide what, and how, to empower employees more, you must set up coaching conversations to determine how to spend your time with each employee to ensure their success with their new responsibilities. With employees being spread more thinly these days, you must make coaching a higher priority than it may have been in the past. Do not be afraid to quiz your employees before cutting them loose. In some fashion, you need to determine the gap between where the employee’s decision-making ability is now and where you need it to be. It is your job to help close that gap through coaching. The smaller the gap, the less time you need to spend with the employee. As you are coaching your employees, remember that it takes roughly four pieces of positive feedback to balance out one piece of negative feedback.

Empowerment Circles. Since training and development have taken a pretty big hit over this year, you need to take that responsibility on yourself. In reality, the majority of employee development accountability should rest with operations folks anyway. The tough times simply put more of a spotlight on where the responsibility falls. Consider what are called Empowerment Circles to help your employees do well with new responsibilities. Give your employees time to meet together in groups to discuss how they are each doing and how they might collaborate to improve. Of course, safety first, so these meetings may need to be online. The important thing is that they see and hear from other employees and work together to help each other maintain confidence and results.

Empowerment of employees has been a key skill for leaders for many years. In the midst of the current crisis, leaders must ensure that solid empowerment is done frequently and well.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].

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