Empowerment is not a Quick Fix.

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The concept of empowerment has been around for a long time and yet it is still under-utilised in  business  today. According to research a number of issues exist that would benefit from greater empowerment within business

  1. We have a lack of engagement in our teams
  2. Our middle managers are noted for lack of people leadership skill
  3. Most businesses focus on short term results and performance.

Most businesses haven’t realised the full power of empowerment. These issues paint that picture. By embracing empowerment, business can benefit from unleashing the power of their people. However, what holds us back is the lack of will-power and commitment and the want of a quick fix. Let me share with you a story.


Rex was an ex-tradesman who came to work in the big-box hardware retailer where I was the Operations Manager. I met Rex on his first day after he had completed his three day company induction. He was an older worker, who had chosen to go off the tools and ‘ease’ himself into a quieter life as he neared retirement. I met him as I walked the floor and stopped for a chat to see how he was feeling. He was understandably nervous but came across terrified. I introduced myself and I asked some general questions on his background and his reasons for moving into a retail environment. He seemed pleased to be off the tools and shared his nervousness about the customer service aspects and the challenge this would present to him. And then came the kicker. ‘ And this empowerment thing….. I’m not sure I am ready to make my own decisions, even though it seems exciting”  Our conversation continued and it came to pass that his line manager had given him a cursory introduction around the store and that he was right to go because of his knowledge of the products he would be selling. Then left him to his own devices…his own empowerment
No wonder the poor bloke looked terrified. No buddy working with him, no guidelines discussed.
Just go for it and we can fix the mess as we move on. 
Empowerment is not a set and forget process. It is not a quick fix. We cannot just put someone into a work situation, tell them they are empowered and let them loose. I quickly found the line manager of Rex and spoke about my concerns that I had with terrified Rex being empowered with no input from the direct leader. After wading through all of the excuses (yes we had huge growing pains at the time and new people were being added to the team quickly to cope) we developed an onboarding program for Rex together. The line manager then sat down with myself and Rex and went through the program with him and clarified that empowerment is a process that comes with knowledge and awareness. Empowerment comes with the awareness of what decisions can be made, and the impact they have. Without clear guidelines, we cannot expect team members to make good decisions. End of story. And the interesting thing is we saw a new Rex. It felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders.
The story ended well. That onboarding program became the basis for every new team member we brought on board in that store. Rex became a valued team member (and a huge customer favourite) until he retired and the line manager, learning from those experiences has elevated himself into a senior executive role in the business over the 15 years since this incident. Everyone benefited from what this experience taught us.
Obstacles to Empowerment
  • To empower, means we share power and spread it around. Many leaders hoard power
  • Our belief system prevents us. If we believe people are fundamentally lazy and don’t want responsibility, we will remain bound by this belief.
  • The leaders most responsible for the implementation of strategy and the ultimate effectiveness of  it,  our middle managers, are our least trained and developed.
  • Our patience for results ensures we are always looking for a quick fix. This negates the process we need to go on to ensure the effectiveness of empowering our people.

Process to Empower

  • As the leader, you need to own the process and champion it
  • As a leader, understand what you can empower and what you must do for yourself.
  • Your people have to go on a course. They must understand the guidelines, align to the vision and strategy and have the confidence to use their own best judgement
  • Power is released slowly as the team member builds
  • Empowerment is much like the playing field for a football game. Help them understand what they can do while on the field, but also where they step out of bounds. Clear guidelines are needed.

 Empowerment helps drive engagement within your team and when you have engagement, you have people who are psychologically committed to you and your business and driving success.

What do you need to do to bring empowerment into you workplace? What is the first step? Are you committed to it’s success?

Tony Curl

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Tony Curl

Tony Curl

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