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If you want to engage your employees, first you need to empower them. But what does that even mean? In this blog I will give you a basic definition and set the stage to measure and improve it with data, so read on!
In the last blog, I started to build a model for understanding employee “empowerment” and “engagement.” It is a simple hierarchy like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with Basic Job Needs as the foundation. You need to start at the lowest level that needs work in your organization. The lower levels support the next level up. Assuming you have fulfilled your basic employer obligations in providing a safe work environment, fair compensation for the job, etc., you can start thinking about “empowerment.” So, we will stack that on as the next level in the hierarchy.
The word “empowerment” is one of those terms that a lot of people use in so many different ways that it has almost ceased to have meaning. Yet the word does convey something important so let’s examine what the word means, why it is important, and how we can measure it and affect it.
“Empowerment” generically means to give power to someone. You might have been empowered by someone early in your life who showed you how to learn, and thus opened to you the power of education.
Specifically, in the context of business or institutions, we are referring to one of the functions of management. A CEO is ultimately responsible for the efficient and effective functioning of their organization, but in a larger organization that individual can only do so much and has to rely on others to do their jobs too. Therefore, part of what managers have to do is properly give up part of their responsibilities to others at the level to where it makes sense. Those that don’t do this are said to be “micromanaging,” or taking away from people that report to them the decisions and actions necessary to do their own jobs.
So, when I refer to “empowerment” I am simply talking about giving individuals the power to do the job for which they were hired. It is a pretty low bar, to be sure, but if you can’t even clear that level, talking about “engagement” will seem pretty silly to your employees.
That sounds well and good, but specifically what does that mean? It is management’s responsibility to provide certain things to an individual before they can really expect that they will be able to do their job. I use the following model to represent these obligations:
Let’s define these terms and discuss them.
The Components of Empowerment
If you have the tools for the job, you possess the various resources you need to do the job. These resources can include people, equipment, software, materials, systems, processes, or whatever else is needed.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the snazziest new toys – it just means that you have what is needed to do the job in the time allotted and with a high level of quality.
If you have the knowledge needed, you have the basic education, information, and skill sets that would allow you to meet the needs of your clients and perform your job well, and you are clear on exactly who your clients are.
Knowledge is obtained on and off the job, and for our purposes here, is relevant to your job function. By the way, you might be surprised at how frequently people in organizations don’t know who their customers are or what they want.
If you have accepted responsibility, you are absolutely clear on what your daily, monthly, and annual goals and objectives are, you understand your role in the organization, and you know how to achieve your goals.
Job responsibilities should be clearly understood and documented between manager and employee, with ongoing monitoring to ensure that progress is being made and that there are never surprises.
Authority (within the span of control)
If you have the correct level of authority, you can achieve those objectives for which you are responsible. “Span of control” means those areas and decisions required to perform your function; that is, to get your job done.
If you have no ability to change something, then you have no span of control over it and certainly can’t be held responsible for its performance. Of course, in reality, the span of control is a continuum:
You just want to make sure that you have control or at least the largest impact for things over which you have responsibility.
If you have the appropriate accountability, you and others around you are held to the responsibilities you have been given. This also means that your responsibilities have been translated into objective metrics over which you have authority to control.
Accountability does not mean you get yelled at or fired if you don’t accomplish some objective. It does mean that a discussion is started (hopefully soon after it is clear the objective cannot be attained) about which of the other empowerment components you need from your manager to successfully fulfill that part of your job or, failing that, what needs to be adjusted to account for the inability of management to provide what is needed.
Now that we have a definition as to what empowerment means, I'll follow that up with showing you how this model can be used to generate data, and how that data can drive real improvement in your employees' sense of empowerment.