Many businesses now believe that to provide outstanding service, employees must be empowered. What does this mean exactly? Does it mean to get rid of the policies and procedures that we as managers use to control our employees? Well, in some ways yes but not completely. Surely it is more than just saying to your employees, “from now on, you’re all empowered!” The key difference is that we are looking to the ‘performer of the task’ to provide solutions to service problems rather than technology as is the case with the industrialisation mindset popular from the 1970’s. Managers must remove the constraints that keep employees from making decisions on their own. They also must give the employees the confidence that their contributions do make a difference. To facilitate an empowered workforce, four key factors must be transferred from senior management control to frontline employees.
- Information about the company’s performance.
- Rewards based on the company’s performance.
- Knowledge that enables employees to understand and contribute to organisational performance.
- Power to make decisions that influence company direction and performance.
Of course, empowering your workforce does not mean there are absolutely no limits. That would be irresponsible management and could present considerable risk to the business. There must be a system of controls which act as a guide to employee behaviour and actions. As an example, there must be guidelines on the use of company credit cards. Managers must be sure to explain what responsibility and authority rests with employees and why they are being empowered.
The benefits of an empowered workforce
- Faster response to dissatisfied customers
- Faster response to customer needs
- Employees are motivated and engaged
- Employees have higher job satisfaction, morale and loyalty
- Employees will interact with customer in a more genuine and enthusiastic way
- Encourages a flow of new ideas
It must also be understood that not everyone is receptive to empowerment. This could be due to low confidence levels or self-efficacy. There may also be cultural issues to consider. I once heard a story about an American firm who established a factory in another country and employed the locals. The American management who supported the concept of an empowered workforce ask the locals how they would like to run the factory. A few days later most of the local employees left their jobs complaining about their lack of confidence in the American management who needed to ask them how to run the factory!
The benefits of an empowered workforce are clear. It can lead to exceeding customer expectations by giving the employee the power and trust to make decisions without waiting for the approval of management. It can lead to increased productivity and quality as the people who actually deliver the service determine the best way to do it. Empowered employees feel part of the company and more easily internalise the goals of their managers. This in turn leads to lower levels of required monitoring from management and less effort to motivate employees.