Recently I was asked about which area of HR I enjoy the most, and upon reflection, I’ve found that actually most of the areas that HR influences fall under one umbrella term: empowerment. In the course of my career, I’ve found that empowering people at work is a fantastic contributor to their success and productivity, and while that may sound obvious – it’s not something that always comes easily within companies.
Empowerment, while positive, also requires leaders and managers to relinquish some control and allow employees to get on with work themselves and own projects or products. That can be a tricky task for a lot of people, especially if you’re a manager who likes a good amount of quality control and to oversee work. While challenging though, it’s proven to be a good thing. One 2018 study found that empowering leadership is positively associated with organisation-based self-esteem and meaningful work, while another study also found that when employees experience daily empowering leadership, it enhances their proactive goal-setting and goal-striving the following day.
Empowerment is a mindset that has to start with managers. It won’t always be easy, but the benefits for people and the business outweigh this difficulty. Now’s a time when many companies are reflecting on their learning, development and empowerment strategies within their organisation, so here are my tips on how you can start to better empower your people.
Think critically about diversity
A key part of empowerment comes from the spread of varying ideas, and if you only surround yourself with people like you who have the same opinions, you’re going to end up in an echo chamber. It also will affect how you hire. In the technology space for example, too many people see the industry as a “boy’s club” that isn’t for them or expect they won’t have a chance or won’t like it, but they won’t know that for sure.
Managers need to encourage diversity in how they market themselves and the business, not just through marketing and public relations, but also through job advertisements. Take a step back and look at the messaging and phrasing within your job ads – are you a company that people will want to join? Does the language show true opportunities for an inclusive atmosphere, or do you just have a blanket statement about equal opportunity on every application?
This also comes into issues like pay equity. If you have a male candidate who says he’ll only accept the role at £100K per year, and a woman who says she’ll only accept the role at £50K per year, but they are both happy with those respective salaries – is it right to accept that? If you do, you’ll always have pay gaps as those two people work and grow, so it’s better to review the appropriate pay for that job function and level.
Getting critical about these aspects will help you better market your company, get the breadth of candidates you desire, and create a more empowered workforce.
Predict and react to market changes
Change management is important for empowerment too. Companies need to keep an eye on external social, political and market changes that could impact on their people, reflect on these changes and ensure they are reacting appropriately to empower their people with the tools to manage those external changes.
This could be responding to the #MeToo movement by introducing a safe way for employees to flag misconduct within the company to management and ensure people know that option exists, or it could be surveying employees on Brexit and what support they need from the company to feel secure, and visibly acting on those responses to help employees feel they can continue working without insecurity.
The main thing is to – as a manager and as a company – be transparent in your communication, ask for and listen to employees’ opinions, and show that you are doing something for employees’ needs and requests. In doing so, employees will know that management is listening and that people in the company are empowered to create change – no matter their seniority.
Check your management style
Finally, it’s important to reflect on your management style too. I’ve found that managers tend to fall into two categories; they’re either your best buddy or very tough. If you’re a best buddy manager, it can get uncomfortable for both you and the person reporting into you when you have to have tough conversations and then revert back to buddy-mode straight after, as though nothing’s happened. It can be a poor way to manage people, as it can often make employees want to avoid feedback sessions with managers and equally, managers won’t always be honest about the situation or problems. The bigger problem with that comes months or years later, where perhaps an employee is fired for poor performance but can’t understand why or what happened.
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Equally though, if you’re very tough as a manager, it can stop you getting the best out of people. Employees will be scared to speak up if they don’t understand a task or have made a mistake, and that lack of honesty and transparency can create problems for the business too. You also risk losing great employees too quickly due to this management style, which impacts not only your company’s leadership pipeline but also hurts revenue; one recent study found that 40 percent of employees who don’t highly rate their supervisor’s performance has interviewed for a new job in the last three months, way ahead of the 10 percent of those who do rate their supervisor highly.
Management is often considered a ‘soft skill’, but to me, it’s actually a hard one that takes a lot of training and development. People are the heart of the business and need proper management, or they’ll leave. Employee recognition has to be there and you have to empower employees and managers to know this is the key aspect of their job.
While none of these steps are ‘silver bullets’ in ensuring you have an empowered workforce, they’re three important starting points to reflect on and identify where you need to prioritise change for the better. With the UK set for a great change in 2019, now is the most important time to be looking at how you can create a truly diverse, empowered workforce that will set your company up for future success.