Regardless of which statistic you find, the fact remains that employee engagement throughout North America remains low. In my experience, the reason there has been little improvement in this area over the past decade is because we’ve yet to come to grips with the idea that we need to let go in order to help employees to grow.
When I did the research for my first book, Operational Empowerment: Collaborate, Innovate and Engage to Beat the Competition, it became clear to me that no degree of recognition or general improvements in a working environment can overcome engagement if the employee doesn’t feel empowered.
Empowerment is the ability of an employee to be directly involved in and have influence over their work. This includes their ability to make decisions about when they work, how work gets done, and what their priorities are.
If you’re a CEO, executive, or leader at some level; don’t panic. I’m not suggesting you need to turn over the reins to your team, at least not initially.
What I found through my studies is that the organizations that typically have the highest level of employee engagement are the very same organizations in which employees are empowered. In fact, there is a direct correlation between the degree to which employees are self-managed and the level to which they are engaged.
Obviously, as a leader you play a role in this, starting specifically with five areas you need to change, if in fact you are going to empower your team.
1. Open dialog. I have found that leaders who have achieved the greatest results from empowerment are open about everything. There is literally nothing that is hidden or held back. Receive some negative feedback from an employee? Bring it up to the team and ask for their assistance. Have something you’ve been challenged on by your boss? Bring the challenge to the team for their input and ideas. This is more than simply having an, “open door policy.” It is, in fact, being 100% transparent.
2. Frequent face-to-fact meetings: It was well over a decade ago that I took the idea of having a weekly meeting (in many cases a painstaking hour long discussion re-hashing issues that I had thought were resolved) and turned it on its head. With the help of a senior team member, we began having a daily “huddle,” standing room only, at a central point in the office. Taken from the idea of a daily, “tool-box talk,” or pre-job brief, we took fifteen minutes to discuss plans for the day, and then most importantly we went around the circle, providing everyone with a chance to bring up whatever was on their mind.
3. Visual Work: This will date me, but I was first introduced to Lean back in the 90s at Ford Motor Co. One of the ideas that stuck with me the most was the idea of making work visual. By introducing simple visual tools such as white boards, and highlighting the projects or specific tasks people are working on, you can help the team become involved in capacity planning. Employees and their teams naturally begin to support each other in their work when they know what others around them are working on.
4. Collaborative Goals: Several years ago I came across an organization that was developing what I like to call collaborative goals. The specific objectives of the CEO and executive teams were sent down throughout the organization for teams to review and identify their own specific goals that would in turn support achieving the goals of the organization. It was a top down and bottom up approach to developing goals that included open dialog, sharing of information, and ultimately a powerful method for setting a clear focus that everyone in every department could buy into.
5. More Questions than Answers: I recall the first role I had where my name was on a door. Man, would my mom be proud! Interestingly, I learned during this time that the more I told people what to do, the less they listened. That’s when I learned the power of questions. For over a decade now, I’ve been teaching and coaching leaders on the power of asking questions. When you ask your people about their ideas, you engage them in identifying what to do. This is at the heart of empowerment. For those organizations and leaders who have successfully introduced empowerment, their leadership team leads with questions before ever considering what the answers might be.
You’ll notice from this list that there are a combination of environmental factors, cultural factors and leadership behaviors that are necessary for empowerment. That’s on purpose. Empowerment itself can’t be achieved by focusing only on one aspect of the business, but instead is a way of operating a business.
To say that empowerment alone is the only way to increase employee engagement would be a misnomer, but it is in fact the single greatest determinant as to the level and degree of employee engagement achieved.
Shawn Casemore, president and founder of Casemore and Co, Inc., is a consultant, speaker and author of Operational Empowerment: Collaborate, Innovate, and Engage to Beat the Competition, published by McGraw-Hill.