Implementing an Employee Empowerment Strategy

In the modern world of work there is now a constant pressure to do more with less.   Agile work conditions are increasingly becoming commonplace as organisations realise the benefits.  Paired with an explosion of global business practices, this has given many employees the capacity to work anywhere at any time.  Employees are now being asked to be adaptable to changing circumstances, autonomous, and capable of self-managing their teams.  Too often however, organisational development can occur to infrastructure and processes, and yet fail to engage employees.

This is why employee empowerment is so important to success during organisational change.  It is a critical element for any organisation committed to development and change in the digital age. Shifting circumstances need an aligned change culture, or risk critical failure. Given the costs typically associated with restructuring an organisation, it is reasonable to question organisation and individual benefits when it comes to promoting an empowerment mindset.  Business leaders and human resources academics have frequently made note of the many key workforce issues that can be addressed through employee psychological empowerment strategies.

Turnover Intention
Employee empowerment has been shown to have negative direct and indirect effects on turnover intention.  Empowered employees are far more likely to care about the work they produce, as well as their organisation.  This loyalty and commitment has enormous implications.

A recent report by the Australian Human Resource Institute revealed an average turnover rate of 16%, a notable increase given the turnover rate was 12% only three years prior.  It is no secret that increased employee turnover has detrimental financial implications for organisations – it can cost anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to double an employee’s annual salary, just to replace one individual.  This is before factoring the intangible costs of employee turnover on organisations, such as added stress, tension, reductions in employee morale, and disruptions to group synergy and productivity.

The benefits increase even further when considering the features of the digital age, where smaller talents pools have created a shortage of quality candidates.  David Brown, a Deloitte partner in Human Capital, noted that in Australia “we spend almost twice as much on recruiting people as we do training and developing them”.  Reducing turnover intentions through empowered employees allows organisations to invest less on recruitment and more where it matters: development.

Leadership Development
For years organisations have proclaimed the importance of cultivating leaders from within their organisations; executives frequently posit that succession management is their most critical human capital priority.  While leadership development programs have come a long way, they are far from ideal when equipping employees with the necessary skills to manage within their functions.  Far too many training initiatives tend to assume one size fits all, and that the same styles of leadership will produce consistent results across areas of work, indefinitely.

In enacting an employee empowerment strategy, employees can be given a sizeable chunk of the decision-making function, alongside a small number of key competencies that will make a sizable impact on performance.  Instead of throwing high potentials into a sea of capability frameworks and organisational value statements, the impactful aspects of leadership - such as decision-making and coaching skills - can be fostered on a daily basis.  With the right training in place to aid employees to develop these core capabilities, today’s sales representative could be tomorrow’s empowerment leader.
Productivity & Performance
Greater productivity arises at the operational level when employees are empowered, as they have a superior ability to resolve problems without added delays in contacting front line managers.  At a more strategic level, employees who feel as if they have a say in the decision-making process work harder.  Understanding that they have additional autonomy over their work, and that managers are going to back their decisions fosters a sense of ownership.  This feeling of ownership leads employees to feel more committed to producing quality work, leading to higher productivity and performance.  

In the digital age department budgets are growing exceedingly smaller as margins thin.  Having employees that are able to do more with less ensures sustained, competitive advantages in the market.

Giving employees more autonomy over their environments and consumer interactions provides additional insights into management decisions and service innovations.  Front line employees can often see problems that behind-the-scenes executives won’t.  Being empowered gives these employees the capacity to share their insights in a far more effective manner.  Organisations that value innovation (which should be all of them) get access to a wealth of employees who can bring new ways of thinking to existing practices.  This employee feedback provides the opportunity for practical organisations to develop their business strategies and cement their role in the market. 

Beyond these significant business advantages, empowered employees also promote effective culture change that aligns with modern continuous and iterative change practices.  It appears evident that when seeking to implement role restructuring, employee empowerment ensures sustained buy in.

With an understanding of the numerous long term organisational benefits, the next question is how to implement the required changes to foster a culture of empowerment – the how to.

Foster Frequent Communication Practices
Transparent and frequent communication should be, or should become, the norm.  Not only does this aid in building trust and creating a collaborative culture, but empowered employees need as much information as possible to ensure informed decision-making in critical situations.  Share any relevant information as immediately and effectively as possible.  Employers should also put in place systems that allow employees to have their voices heard.  Empowered employees should feel as if they can express themselves and that they will be listened to.

Provide Clear Vision and Objectives
The organisation’s long-term vision and objectives need to be salient to all employees.  Empowered employees have greater flexibility in their need to rely on management for guidance.  In this dynamic, managers should be able to provide a clear vision of the organisation’s future.  Acting as transformational leaders as opposed to transactional ones gives empowered employees a resource they can turn to when required but won’t interfere with every decision made.  Further this ensures decisions made by employees align with consumer demands and the movements of the market.

Remain Accepting of Mistakes
Providing additional responsibilities to employees comes with a natural risk of blunders, especially for those that lack experience.  While offering resources and providing agency, be ready and willing to allow employees to make and learn from their mistakes.  Berating employees for trying something novel only serves to deter others.  The long-term benefits of an innovative culture far surpass these risks.  Remain cognizant of the big picture and the myriad of other satisfied clients when it comes to mistakes.

Even further, create an environment that celebrates not just the success stories, but the failures as well.  Applaud employees that were willing to take a risk but didn’t quite get the intended results.  These are opportunities to learn valuable lessons and maintains a freedom to innovate novel business solutions. 

Position Teams to Transition into the New Hierarchy
As employees start to feel empowered within their work functions, slowly and carefully transfer further responsibilities from managers to teams.  Role restructures towards a flatter organisational hierarchy should occur over time as an iterative process, ensuring that key functionally and managerial responsibilities don’t fall to the wayside, or are taken on by employee’s incapable of immediate delivery.  Easing into this process with a lot of support from employers can make or break a successful change management strategy.

Practical organisations have the chance to foster a sizable competitive advantage through an empowered culture.  In saying this however, some employees are much better suited to empowerment than others.

Personality questionnaires offer organisations an opportunity to identify those employees who are the most capable of excelling in this environment.  One vital personality attribute we at Psych Press have observed makes all the difference in these types of endeavours is Autonomy.

Autonomy measures the extent to which an individual feels comfortable acting with independence, and whether they can perform in a situation with little or no supervision.  Autonomous individuals are likely to enjoy and succeed in empowered environments with minimal guidance, where they have the freedom to work through business problems independently.

An item that you might see on our Business Personality Reflections® questionnaire measuring Autonomy is:

“I make decisions quickly and effectively under minimal supervision”.

Employees that enjoy autonomy at work have been shown to have higher work engagement (Christian, Garza, & Slaughter, 2011).  As stated in the Job Demands and Resources Model, the job resource of autonomy helps to mitigate the undesirable aspects of work, including high stressors and psychological strain.  Individuals who can work autonomously also bring organisational advantages, increasing performance and organisational commitment (Spector, 1986).

Moreover, as noted by Ryan and Deci (2000) in their Self-Determination Theory, autonomous employees possess higher levels of motivation, contributing to better performance and high-level execution of tasks.  This demonstrates how an autonomous employee in your workforce, could require less supervision, yet perform tasks to a higher quality.  Employees who have a high level of autonomy over their work have a better sense of pride and accomplishment, and are more resistant to job burnout, reducing turnover intention (Kim & Stoner, 2008).

You should consider using an Autonomy scale in your recruiting and development processes if you:

  • ·         Intend on implementing an employee empowerment strategy
  • ·         Want to improve employee motivation and satisfaction
  • ·         Have increasing levels of employee turnover
  • ·         Want to improve workplace performance without constantly providing guidance

Organisations that hire high-scoring autonomous individuals are reaping the benefits of more motivated, satisfied and empowered employees.

If you were interested in learning more about the Psych Press Autonomy Scale on the Business Personality Reflections® personality questionnaire please simply enquire now for access to an exclusive free trial, or to see how this menu-driven system can work for you.


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