Empowerment is a business buzzword that has been around for a long time and yet it is surprisingly misunderstood. Some see it as management’s way of making employees feel as though they have power when really they don’t, making it more of a “now you have the power to do as you’re told” situation. But true empowerment can change an entire business and accomplish great things. Good managers and leaders understand that true empowerment means sharing their power with the people over whom they have power. When individuals and team members believe that they have the power to make decisions that were previously left only to managers they become committed and driven employees.
The 3 Benefits
There are three great benefits gained from empowerment that works: Ideas, Synergy and Ownership. Let’s explore these:
Ideas: The old expression “two heads are better than one” was never more aptly used than in this situation. When employees feel empowered to offer up ideas and suggestions, great things can, and often do, happen. One of my favorite examples came from an employee at a clothing company who suggested “the gravity fed pattern system”. Now, this sounds pretty fancy but all the invention really amounted to was a basic laundry chute. In a large clothing manufacturing company, the clothing patterns were printed on the second floor and the cutting machines were on the first floor. This inevitably meant that when new patterns were needed someone had to run from the first floor to the second to retrieve the patterns. When an astute employee suggested constructing a “laundry chute” for delivering the patterns, the team set to work to put the idea in motion. Not only did the system save everyone valuable time, but everyone had fun contributing suggestions and watching the idea come to life.
Synergy: Synergy is defined as “two or more units working together to achieve a greater effect than individuals can do by themselves”. When the employee in the above story first put his idea into words, others jumped on board to help bring the project to fruition. Someone thought of a way to box in the structure, another recommended lining the reception box with foam to protect the patterns and yet another came a catchy name to put on the door. And so the “Automated Gravity Fed Pattern Delivery System” was born out one empowered group of employees. Since the alternative to this system was going to be moving the large printer to the first floor and constructing a whole new room for it, it goes without saying that the company saved a ton of money!
Ownership: Empowerment gives employees ownership of a project or plan. This in turn creates a desire to participate in, enthusiasm for, and commitment to, the company’s success. The team in the above example owned this project and was determined to see it through. When employees have no ownership, they have no interest or desire in contributing new ideas.