Empowering your team is not difficult, but it does require a conscious effort. The benefits are numerous and well-documented — happier, more productive employees, a higher level of engagement, enhanced customer service, reduced stress, increased innovation, more pride and loyalty, less stagnancy, and an organization that is more adaptable to change. Plus, it just makes the workplace more pleasant for everyone.
Here are a few simple but critical ways to empower your team:
1. Open the lines of communication
Empowerment begins and ends with communication. There is certainly more to it in between, but if you start by communicating objectives, roles, expectations and parameters, and finish by recognizing success and analyzing performance, your team stands a better chance of achieving or surpassing organizational goals. Hoarding information isn’t good for anyone. If you share your strategic vision, your team can buy on and help you achieve it. If you encourage and validate feedback, you can improve morale and how you work. If you establish priorities, they just might be given priority. If you share information generously, your team members have the context and confidence they need to make good decisions. According to a study by George Mason University, being “in on things” is at or near the top of most employee wish lists.
2. Allow the freedom to fail
It may sound counterproductive, but it’s not. If you’ve hired the right people and communicated what needs to be done, the next step is getting out of their way so they can do it. Your team needs to know you support them far more than they need you to babysit them. Take a step back. Let them make decisions, even wrong ones. In fact, those often have the most value as it allows them to fail up. Making decisions out of fear is what leads to status quo. You can and should check in periodically — accountability is important as well — but empowering your employees with freedom and flexibility leads to greater engagement, initiative and innovation, mutual respect and satisfaction.
3. Recognize exceptional effort
People need to feel their contributions are valued. That’s why recognition from leaders and coworkers is such a powerful motivator. Not only is it a reward for those whose achievements are being lauded, but it can also inspire the entire team to up their game. Recognition can take many forms. It can be a simple “thank you” individually or at a group gathering, a newsletter article, a stress relieving or celebratory event, a raise or bonus, or more opportunity and/or responsibility moving forward. Often, recognition costs you very little, and it can go a long way towards creating a positive cycle of success.
4. Support self-improvement
If you want your team to continue to grow and contribute in a dynamic way, you need to help give them the tools to improve. This can be through training and conferences, continual goal setting and feedback, mentorship, in-house lunch and learns, investing in new technology, or simply providing the time to learn new skills. They will be grateful for the opportunity to add to their skillset, and they are sure to be more valuable and more engaged members of your team. Make sure it is part of your annual strategic planning, HR budget, and performance reviews.
5. Provide new challenges
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you want your people to step up, move beyond their comfort zone, and reach their potential, you need to provide them the opportunities to do so. Depending on their expertise, that can mean pretty much anything — from learning new software or taking first aid training to leading a project or presenting to clients — as long as it’s something they’ve never done before, they are learning, gaining potentially valuable experience, new skills and perspectives, and, importantly, not getting complacent or bored.
None of these best practices are particularly difficult or onerous, but it can be difficult to maintain and apply them consistently over the long-term. At Banfield, we’ve identified empowerment as one of our values to ensure we keep it top of mind. In our experience, the rewards are certainly worth the effort — not least because it helps create a culture that people want to be a part of.