6 Tips for Empowering Employees

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Once or twice a month, I go to Waffle House with Chad Mann, the youth pastor at Harvard Avenue Baptist, after the Wednesday night service. I always get a chocolate chip waffle. Chad orders a bacon, chicken, and cheese wrap with ranch dressing. Last week, they didn’t have any ranch dressing. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but here’s how the conversation with our waitress went:

CHAD: Can I get a bacon, chicken, and cheese wrap with a packet of ranch dressing please?

WAITRESS: We don’t have any ranch dressing.

CHAD: Bummer. You didn’t have it last time I was here either.

WAITRESS: Yea, we haven’t had any for a few weeks. Our manager is on vacation, so we haven’t ordered any.

ME: Couldn’t one of you all just run over to Walmart and get some so customers can have ranch on their wraps and salads? (This particular Waffle House is in the parking lot of the Siloam Walmart)

WAITRESS: I guess so, but the manager isn’t here, so we don’t know if that’s ok. He always makes us ask for permission to do stuff like that. Plus, it’s getting cold outside.

CHAD: That’s fine. I’ll use salsa instead.

Fear-Driven Management

Why do I share this example? It highlights the problems that result when employees don’t feel empowered by their managers. The resulting lack initiative causes customers to slip through the cracks, damaging the brand’s image. In addition, when employees aren’t empowered, their motivation for showing up to work everyday slowly shifts from serving the customer and building the brand to just earning a paycheck. This usually results in low job satisfaction and high turnover rates.

Ultimately the manager has two options to accomplish his/her objectives: 1) treat employees like part of an assembly line with no regard to their ideas, feedback, or special abilities or 2) empowering their employees to accomplish the task together using their unique personalities.

What’s keeping more managers from empowering their people? A lot of it boils down to fear: fear that employees won’t do things exactly the way the leader wants (resulting in micromanagement), fear of inadequacy (resulting in poor communication), and fear of failure (resulting in never taking risks or trying new things to better serve customers). Fear leads to mistrust which prevents empowerment.

Empowering Employees

Here are six tips for creating a company culture that empowers its employees:

  1. Encourage open communication- give clear direction and expectations, listen to employee feedback, and model genuine openness
  2. Foster relevant innovation- encourage thinking outside the box in order to better serve customers, let employees take initiative to bring about positive change, and be alright with smart failure
  3. Allow individual autonomy- define roles, support autonomy, resist the urge to micromanage, and treat employees like people, not machines
  4. Coach towards success- model positive values, provide opportunities for challenge and learning, equip employees to succeed, and delegate according to individual strengths
  5. Reward exceptional efforts- acknowledge hard work, celebrate milestones, and recognize individual achievements
  6. Hold everyone accountable- be consistent in assessing progress and enforcing policies, followup on assignments, give honest feedback, and outline the consequences of failure

Going the Extra Mile

Let’s return to the Waffle House example. What would have happened differently if the employees felt empowered by their manager? The conversation might have gone more like this:

CHAD: Can I get a bacon, chicken, and cheese wrap with a packet of ranch dressing please?

WAITRESS: We don’t have any ranch dressing right now, but if you don’t mind waiting a few minutes I can run across the parking lot and get some.

CHAD: That’d be awesome!

When employees feel empowered, they are willing to go the extra mile to please customers. Brands that do this well create deep customer loyalty, which is the best marketing any company can hope for.

Do you have an example of a brand fail? Have any stories of empowered employees going the extra mile for you? Share them in the Comments below.

-Lawson
Learn It. Love It. Live It.

[image credit: Pixel on Flickr]

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About Lawson Hembree
Lawson is an entrepreneur, ministry leader, and outdoors enthusiast who also enjoys blogging about business, ideas, and theology. Want to continue the discussion or write a guest post? Let's Connect!

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