Empowered employees show greater commitment, stay more engaged, and create better results. Empowered employees take more initiative and get more done than employees who work in a fear-based, command-and-control environment.
As a new supervisor, you hear and read about these organizational performance results, and you decide that you want to empower your employees. So, you go tell them that they are empowered. You watch and wait for them to act empowered. And you wonder why you don’t get the results you expected. What went wrong?
Before I offer the solution, I’ll ask a question: Are employees empowered when you tell them they are empowered or when they feel empowered?
The full answer is that both must be true to get the results you want. You must give people the authority and freedom to act, AND people must feel empowered before they will exert their authority. Most leaders get the first part. They tell employees that they have authority and that they can act on their own initiative. That is an obvious first step toward creating an empowered workforce.
The second part is a bit more difficult to quantify and to put into specific action steps. In fact, the second part is outside your direct control. It is, however, something that you can influence. Your actions and statements can support your efforts to empower employees, or they can severely undermine your efforts.
If people live in fear that you will criticize them, condemn them, or complain about them, they will not feel empowered. They will feel controlled, and they won’t take initiative.
To create a feeling of empowerment, you can’t motivate people with fear tactics. You need to foster a positive work environment where people feel supported and safe. Here are two ideas to consider as you work to achieve a fear-free environment that promotes empowerment:
1. Compliment more than you condemn
Noticing people’s mistakes is easy. Looking past their shortcomings to see what they do well can take some effort, especially when you are under tight time and budget constraints.
Remember that any negative comments you make will have a much stronger impact on people than your positive ones. Look for and acknowledge employees’ positive behavior and good performance. That simple act boosts their confidence and makes them feel like they can tackle any problem or challenge.
2. Coach more than you critique
Employees are going to make mistakes. That is just a fact of life. How you respond to those mistakes has a big impact on the feelings people have about you, their work, and how much you trust them.
When a person on your team makes a mistake, you need to correct it. However, when you do, remember to use more positive feed forward – what you want to see in the future – rather than rehash the mistakes and focus on what you do not want to see.
Identify someone on your team whom you want to behave in a more empowered way. Before the end of the day, find an opportunity to praise something the person did well, even if it is a very small thing. Over the next week, hold a coaching conversation with the employee where you focus primarily on the person’s behaviors that you want to see more of in the future.
If the problem is that employees just don’t seem to care enough to take more initiative, watch this video to learn how to overcome that challenge: