Sara works for a company where empowerment is the buzzword of the month. While she is sure that she wants to be empowered, she has some questions about what it really is…
Wikipedia states that empowerment refers to increasing the strength of individuals. Empowered people are willing to make decisions based on the best information available – without the fear of retribution. They don’t just make suggestions for improvement or whine about something that is not quite right; they actually make recommendations for how to implement change – change that benefits the company, the employee or the customer – and sometimes all three.
While many companies tell their employees that they are empowered they do this without the proper training and support. An “empowered” culture allows people to question how things are done, to constantly ask, “How can we do this better?” Do you listen to your employees? Do you have a process in place that allows them to question policies and procedures? How have you trained your employees to accept responsibility? When we tell them that they should “do whatever it takes to make the customer happy” have we also provided them with the tools to access the situation and make the right decision?
Of course, when we think about the frontline people that interact directly with our customers, the first question is, “how do I know if the employees will make good decisions?” The answer is – you don’t. But the decision to create an empowered culture requires that we rethink the way we hire and the way we train. Companies that expect their employees to be empowered must hire for attitude and train for skill. Consider reviewing your hiring process and add a customer scenario that requires the person to make a decision. Set-up the scenario with rules that allow the employee to “bend the rules;” then ask them to satisfy the customer. If they go by the rules, they may not survive in an empowered culture.
Empowered employees must also understand “why” when a new policy and procedure is implemented. If they understand why the change was implemented, they have a better chance of being able to ignore the procedure and make an empowered decision to serve the customer.
Empowered employees need to know that they will make mistakes and that the management team will support tem even when they do. A very wise manager once told me that if I could tell him three good reasons why I made the decision to step outside the policy then it was probably a good decision. He also said that if I made the wrong decisions that he would still back me up and that we would discuss it and learn from my mistake. The best part was that he actually wanted me to make the wrong decision so I could learn how to make better decisions.
Do you have an empowered culture? Are you willing to allow your employees to make decisions based on what is best for the company, the employee and the customer?