There’s a saying: Hire smart people and then get out of their way.
This expression is true, but it’s missing an important third part. It should be:
- Hire smart people
- Get out of their way
- And then make sure nothing else is in their way
In other words: Managers, start empowering your employees.
Put simply, empowering and engaging employees is about creating the conditions within which team members can do their jobs, feel comfortable sharing ideas, and be trusted to work independently. You’d be hard-pressed to find an HR department that disagrees with this in theory, and you’d better believe they’re already familiar with the best practices: allow room for failure, communicate expectations clearly, don’t micromanage. On the other hand, putting employee empowerment into practice is a completely different story.
So instead of reading yet another definition of this business buzzword, let’s take a look at four examples of companies that have taken specific steps to empower and engage employees.
Free to Fail at theSkimm
theSkimm delivers the news in a quick, conversational tone straight to a subscriber’s inbox, so they can stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the world. As the company puts it, they make it easier to live smarter.
The New York-based startup has a fun company culture that’s captured marvellously by its active Instagram. One way this startup has actively empowered its employees to take risks and “fail safely” is through their weekly call-out of a “Failure of the Week”. If an employee tries something new or different, but it doesn’t work out, they’re still recognized for taking the risk.
It’s a smart strategy. All it takes is one brilliant idea to justify a string of flops. In fact, the lessons learned from failures often set the foundation for a successful project.
Employees Come First at Southwest Airlines
When we talk about airlines, we’re either complaining about them or shrugging them off as a necessary evil. But one, Southwest Airlines, is consistently ranked highly for both customer satisfaction and employee happiness.
How has Southwest managed this? Simple. The airline has its priorities straight, and they go in the following order: Employees, customers, and then shareholders. Their logic?
Happy and engaged employees will treat customers well which will encourage customers to come back which makes shareholders happy.
The airline seeks proactive employees and encourages them to take responsibility for the success of the company as a whole, no matter their specific role.
It also underscores how it values the contribution of its employees by including them in new projects. A few years back when the airline changed its uniforms, it enlisted employees from all sorts of departments to participate in the design process instead of hiring an external agency.
No Hovering at Adobe
Adobe has become synonymous with creativity in the digital world. Creativity requires flexibility and freedom, so it only makes sense that Adobe fosters a culture that is totally averse to micromanagement.
Adobe clearly defines responsibilities and expected outcomes to its employees and then leaves them to get the job done. They have the freedom to pursue projects however they see fit, and they are trusted with challenging tasks that show their managers have confidence in their competence.
The creative company recently poked fun at micromanagement in the advertising world in their video series “The Hovering Art Director”.
One-on-One Coaching at Buffer
Buffer, a social media management software company, eliminated annual reviews. They provide weekly feedback. This is a smart shift since today’s employees prefer the opportunity to regularly improve and develop their skills.
Smart employees who feel like they are stagnating at a company or don’t feel like they’ve been given the tools they need to become better at their job are unsatisfied and tempted to leave. Buffer provides this kind of consistent feedback by holding one-on-one coaching sessions that are directed by the employee.
These sessions can help employees with questions specifically related to their roles or provide guidance related to company culture and office politics.
This strategy is the positive version of micromanagement. Instead of putting employees in a constant state of anxiety with overzealous check-ins, regular coaching sessions allows managers to provide the kind of feedback an employee needs, not obsessive notes on what an employee already knows how to do.
There’s no doubting the benefits of effectively empowering your employees. Talented team members who are given the flexibility to work independently and take risks can produce innovative results (and are also less likely to leave and start their own company where they have that freedom). They’re also happier, engaged, and enthusiastic about growing your business.
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