HR & Employment · 12 May 2021

How to empower staff

How to empower staff

As your SMME grows into an ever more complex business, more decisions are needed with less time or insufficient data available to make them. Some surveys report that 70 per cent of C-suite executives’ time is spent on decision making. The opportunity cost, estimated on Fortune 500 companies by a McKinsey Global Survey, is more than half a million days of managers’ time. Shockingly, the majority of respondents said it was not time well spent.

And this brings us to delegation.

To delegate or not to delegate

Delegated decisions should be familiar, everyday decisions, with limited scope parameters and limited organisational impact. These can be delegated to a person/team closest to the heart of the question.

These are not big decisions, but their frequency has a big impact.

Another surprise extracted from business surveys is that entrepreneurs often underestimate the value of getting delegated decisions right and mistakenly thinking that delegation is merely ‘handing out’.

In the majority, too few decisions are formally delegated; therefore, employees are set up for failure. In the majority, again, even when a formal delegation process is established, it lacks the manager’s knowledge of supporting the employee’s decision making. Businesses who said good, delegated processes and decisions occurred were significantly in the minority.

How do you engage and empower employees?

The empowerment of employees always enables better decisions from delegated tasks. This also develops their managerial capabilities and strengthens their resource pool.

Simply telling employees what they may or may not decide on is an insufficient act of empowerment.

The right level of guidance at the right time with the right tools = true leadership. #staffempowerment #leadership

Helicopter bosses

Most first attempts at delegation usually result in helicopter bosses or micromanagers, hands-on and controlling with significant doses of second-guessing the employee’s decision. This is often due to the expectations of the manager’s manager or the organisation as a whole: the role models, failure appetite, accountability history, or corporate priorities.

Some managers may simply distrust the abilities or skills of their team to make good decisions. Or they feel the requisite accountability is lacking.

If there are insufficient capabilities, then there is a hiring quality issue and a longer-term challenge as employees are unaccountable, lacking responsibility and have limited growth opportunities.

Cheerleader style

Some leaders may believe they are empowering employees by being detached and encouraging from the near distance. They only intervene occasionally to encourage employees. Switching to this cheerleader style is often chosen by overwhelmed, inexperienced managers.

Cheerleaders delegate to their best people, and as they are “the best”, surely they need less support? Incorrect.

Infrequent and unstructured intervention can appear to be undermining an employee’s capabilities when it occurs.

If engagement is the last resort, then it’s a damaging exercise reserved for those who are struggling. The “best” of the company’s most talented employees do not benefit from structured coaching by senior leaders, and they are not groomed for further advancement.

The cheerleading manager has simultaneously distanced themselves from important work and opportunities that would otherwise have enhanced their own growth by showing successful coaching abilities.

Empowerment is not abandonment or blind trust resulting in employees being left alone to wander in the wilderness of business. True empowerment, resulting in good outcomes from delegated decisions, is called coaching.

Coaching style

Coaching requires you to be involved but not directing, provide guidance but not instructions, provide guardrails for decisions but not make decisions, and ensure there is known accountability. Sounds easy. Again, incorrect.

Coaching management style is learnt. It requires mature thought around the balancing between frequency of input and level of involvement.

It has to be noted that entrenched norms and top-down expectations often make empowerment difficult. If a company’s success rewards are puny compared to failure punishments then empowerment is career threatening on all levels.

For a busy manager, the task of high-quality coaching will burden their time management further. Building employees up to decision-making responsibilities requires up-front investment and a new manager-employee relationship needs to be clarified for the new relationships.

Initially, decision making will obviously be slower and further burden the coaching managers.

The pay-off is that successfully empowered organisations have shown nearly four times better decision making, and they outperform peers financially by far. Empowerment brings employee engagement, greater productivity, and deeper loyalty.

What are the 5 types of empowerment?

Employees crave empowerment so it makes sense for today’s businesses to empower employees and benefit from their best work. The 5 types of empowerment are:

  1. Employee challenges 

Employees, especially bright ones, stagnate quickly as they master their duties or roles swiftly. Setting additional challenging goals for them pushes them beyond their comfort zones and realises their potential. The goals should be attainable, but only with a serious push.

  1. Show the path to the top