Focusing on the four factors - initiative, experience, training, and evaluation - builds confidence in your leadership. With time and attention, the trust will follow, and empowerment becomes the cultural norm.
Supervision requires a fair amount of telling people what to do. At a certain point, people dislike being told what to do. Addressing the impasse calls for empowerment. Empowering your employees means ceding control and allowing them the flexibility to make decisions and own their work. Sounds easy. It’s not. But it is worth it: successful empowerment leads to better performance.
We hear – and largely accept—that the key to being a good manager is the ability to delegate. That’s true. However, delegation is not some managerial superpower, it’s a minimal requirement. When you delegate, are you “assigning?” or are you “entrusting?”
You can assign a task with explicit instructions, multiple check-in points and constant feedback and change requests. While sometimes necessary, this approach leads to your employees only improving their data entry skills and their supervisor ESP: trying to read your mind, in other words.
You can entrust a task with goals and objectives in mind and provide broad outlines for how the task can be executed. This approach depends upon collaboration: sharing ideas among the supervisor and the team, brainstorming solutions, open communication, and being willing to change course when circumstances change or a proposed solution doesn’t seem promising (or doubling down when a solution does show promise). This approach builds trust among colleagues.
Empowerment lies along this continuum. To empower someone means that you give up some of your own. If such actions result in success, then you have created a virtuous cycle. I trust you; you reward that trust; my trust in you increases.
Do I have to empower everyone?
If you have an employee with an established history of exercising poor judgment and zero initiative, then you probably should not empower that employee. I would question why that person still has a job, but that’s a different article.
All managers make decisions about delegation: Who performs the task? Who will the project impact? What’s the timeline? How should the progress be reported? The extent to which your folks can be empowered by your delegation makes them better at their jobs as their careers progress. It also potentially makes your life easier as a leader, but it requires careful attention and deliberation in the short run.
Let’s assume that an employee is correctly assigned and capable of the job requirements. Here’s a framework comprised of four factors that help determine if empowerment is leading to success for your team members:
- Initiative – All employees are volunteers. They determine how much effort will be applied to any task. When someone is empowered, what did that person do with the power they were given? This expectation is not all on the employee. Leaders need to create organizations where initiative matters. People want to feel validated—that’s the least you can do – but they also want to be rewarded. When someone shows initiative, the organization needs to support them with expanded opportunities, more interesting projects, and a viable upward career path.
- Experience – Employee future success depends on prior experience. If someone has been empowered and taken appropriate initiative to complete a task, then what did the experience teach them? How can an organization leverage that experience in the future? In the government space, there are employees with ten years of experience doing the exact same job ten years in a row. That’s a sign of low empowerment. Experience builds on experience. As a leader, you need to help employees make the most of the experience they attain.
- Training – An empowered employee takes initiative and gains experience. Excellent outcome – now we need to ensure more of them. A professional development program aligned to your organization’s goals and objectives is one of your best allies in the quest for empowerment. Such a program operates on two tracks. The first track: when policies, procedures and process change, including implementing new initiatives in operations and IT, the organization needs to ensure employees will be informed and prepared. The second track: give everyone the opportunity to hone their skills and acquire new ones. Identify the gaps in an employee’s competency and fill that gap through best practices, new perspectives, and robust CPE offerings aligned to individual needs.
- Evaluation – A good professional evaluation, either formal or informal, should capture assignment (did the employee live up to the job responsibilities?), initiative (did the employee work to add value to the organization?), experience (is the employee showing growth?), and training (does the employee seek out opportunities to gain new skills and knowledge?). In an empowered organization, these questions should also—especially—be asked of leaders. What did you do to create an environment that incentivizes initiative, provides valuable experiences, and aligns professional development to individual needs?
Remember the virtuous cycle: I trust you; you reward that trust; my trust in you increases. Focusing on the four factors above builds confidence in your leadership. With time and attention, the trust will follow, and empowerment becomes the cultural norm.