Top 6 Ways to Empower Employees

Increase performance and innovation, improve service quality.

Posted Nov 23, 2020

In the past week, I’ve heard two troubling stories from friends. The first complained about a snafu in her workplace when a lower-level employee refused a perfectly reasonable request because he thought it was “against the rules.” It led to a long delay in my friend completing her work tasks.

The second was an example of poor customer service simply because the service rep didn’t feel empowered to take the initiative to solve an absurdly simple problem.

In both instances, the glitch was due to employees who didn’t feel like they had the power to perform their jobs adequately.

I don’t blame the employees. It’s management’s responsibility to ensure that employees feel empowered enough to do their jobs well. Empowered employees perform better, are more committed to their jobs and organizations, and help the organization to innovate.

Here are six ways to empower employees:

1. Allow Them to Question “Rules.” Employees should feel secure enough to question a “standard operating procedure” if they believe it is inappropriate in a certain circumstance, or if they think they have a better way to do things. This doesn’t imply that “anything goes.” Instead, managers should encourage employees to speak up when they think that a particular rule is outdated, or when it doesn’t apply to a specific situation.

2. Allow Them to Make It Right. Particularly in customer service, employees should feel empowered enough to “go that extra mile” to satisfy clients/customers. In a restaurant, servers should be encouraged to comp a customer for an unsatisfactory dish, or a retail employee should be able to offer a discount to make it right. Of course, a manager should monitor the situation because abuses can occur.

3. Allow Employees to “Fail and Learn.” We learn best from the mistakes we make, and figuring out how to correct them. The wise manager provides leeway for employees to experiment or try new things on the job. When something doesn’t work, the employee should be encouraged to analyze the situation and strive to continuously improve workplace procedures.

4. Allow Employees Input in Decision-Making. Decades of research shows that giving team members a say in making key workplace decisions empowers them, unleashes their creativity and contributions to the process, and commits them more to the decision once it’s made.

5. Allow Employees to Take Ownership. Similar to participating in the decision-making process, employees should be encouraged to take ownership of their tasks, feel a sense of ownership as a team member, and act as if they are part-owners of the organization. I know one CEO who encourages employees to buy stock and “invest” (e.g., energy, etc.) in the company. As he says, “nobody washes a rental car.”

6. Encourage Employees to Demonstrate Leadership. Empowerment is all about delegating responsibility to employees. Through delegation of tasks that would more likely be undertaken by managers (e.g., training/mentoring, “signing privilege,” etc.), the result is a more engaged workforce and the development of the next generation of leaders.