Written by Karen E. Mosier
Employees seek autonomy to take action and make decisions within their organization. They want to feel valued and contribute in a meaningful way to the company goals. Empowering employees is a culture. There must be trust and understanding in place ensuring that their actions are in line with their organization’s mission and values.
Here are some key ways to empower employees:
1. Set clear expectations: Communication must be clear. Set parameters within which your employee is free to act. By setting clear expectations and avoiding the tendency to micromanage people, you are giving your employees permission to make decisions that are line with the goals of the organization.
e.g., Diane is my Research Manager. She oversees all my research projects, does the payroll for my graduate students and my technician, oversees the summer students, and orders supplies for my research lab. Diane also organizes our yearly Brain Research symposium. When she started in this position, I gave her autonomy to go ahead and do what needs to be done. She provides weekly face-to-face updates and I am always available to her if any situations arise that need my input. She can approve research expenses up to $5000 and writes blogs on my behalf for my lab’s LinkedIn profile.
2. Delegate tasks to others to help them grow: Resist the temptation to do everything yourself. Don’t have the attitude that if you don’t do it, it won’t be done right or it won’t get done at all. You must delegate tasks to new employees, or else how will they learn? Be purposeful and think about each assignment handed off to others as a chance to strengthen and empower your team. These opportunities will help your team members grow and develop their capabilities and take on new responsibilities.
e.g., A glossy report was needed to communicate the results from our IT satisfaction survey. I was going to ask Bob as he does such amazing work but then I stopped myself. Marje has a background in communications and experience in graphic design. She has now worked for the company for 3 months. She seems unsure about herself. I know she can do much more than writing the updates and preparing the power point for our weekly team meetings. Her work on the Bullying in the Workplace info sheet was stellar. I will ask her to do up the report for the survey so she can grow and develop her skill set and develop confidence in this area.
3. Give autonomy over assignments: Don’t insist that a task has to be done exactly the way you would do it. Accept the fact that your employee may complete a job differently from you. Relinquish control and accept that your way may not be the only or best way to complete a project.
e.g., I needed cards made for the gala dinner to be placed on every table to thank all the people involved in organizing our Leadership conference. I was busy handling other details for the dinner so didn’t give any specific details beyond basic instructions (e.g., size, wording, etc.) to our summer student. Kylie surprised me with her creativity and attention to detail. Later that day when I spoke with her, she presented me with three different options to choose from, including a horizontal or vertical option. The thank you cards were absolutely stunning especially with the different borders and fonts. I asked her opinion which one she liked the best and I went with that option.
4. Provide the necessary resources: To get a job done you need the right tools. To empower your employees you need to get them everything that they will need, including tools, resources, and opportunities for training and professional development.
e.g., When Carrie started in Microbiology she was in a job share and worked two days a week. The situation wasn’t optimal. She had to share the same workspace, including the desk, computer and monitor, and office supplies. Her co-worker sometimes inadvertently moved her stuff around on the desk so she couldn’t find her pen or scissors. Even more challenging, her co-worker occasionally moved files around on their shared network so Carrie lost time searching around to find files that she had been working on earlier in the week. When she changed to a full-time position in UGME, she was given a cubical, office chair, footrest, stand up desk, and access to as many office supplies as she needed. She also had access to many training sessions and was given money for professional development. Her boss stopped by her desk on her first day and told Carrie to let her know if there was anything else that she needed to do her job effectively. Carrie felt very empowered and she couldn’t believe the difference between her experience at her previous job and her new position.
A career is a journey. The job of a manager is to guide your employees on a path that will lead to their growth by helping them overcome challenges. A job is a career in the making and as a leader you have the privilege to help others along the way.
1. Forbes. Glenn Llopis. Leadership Is About Enabling The Full Potential in Others vs career: which mindset do you have? July 29, 2014. https://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2014/07/29/leadership-is-about-enabling-the-full-potential-in-others/?sh=61d3288a6698
2. Leadership Choice. Patrick Bosworth. How to Empower Employees in the Workplace – 8 Tips. https://leadershipchoice.com/empower-employees-in-the-workplace/
3. SpriggHR. 11 Tips for Empowering People in the Workspace. June 18, 2020. https://sprigghr.com/blog/coaching-leadership/11-tips-for-empowering-people-in-the-workspace/
4. University of Rochester. Phil Sennett. How to empower others at work. April 22, 2021. https://www.rochester.edu/emerging-leaders/how-to-empower-others-at-work/