Welcome to...the "Empowerment Zone!"
This is the place in which employees are given the freedom to make decisions, to take action without needing to seek permission, to operate freely with the full backing and consent of management. This is the place where we all want to work. This is the place that most of us say we have created for our respective teams.
Well...let me first say what empowerment is NOT. Empowerment is not putting someone in a new position, handing them an incredibly difficult problem, pushing them out on a ledge...AND LEAVING THEM ALONE! That is NOT empowerment. That is abandonment.
Unfortunately, many leaders think that by leaving people unsupervised, not bothering them, they have followed the business leader's doctrine for empowerment. They know they are supposed to do it. So...if they leave them alone, they are empowering them.
Entrance into the empowerment zone requires three keys. Without each of them, you are not empowering...you are abandoning.
1. Education. People need the necessary skills and tools to operate in the empowerment zone. If we want them to make decisions, they need to understand the decision-making process and the intent of their leaders. They need training in order to gain the appropriate level of competence for their position. They need leadership training and communication skills. They need the tools and resources necessary to function. Bottom line - it does people no good to push them out on the ledge without the basic necessities.
2. Opportunity. Empowerment comes from putting people in position to grow. Developmental assignments and challenging projects offer the opportunity to function in the empowerment zone. They need increasingly longer leashes to demonstrate the understanding of how to apply the skills and tools we have provided them. Bottom line -- there is no substitute for the learning that comes from OJT (On the Job Training). But..these opportunities are only chances for failure, disappointment, and disillusionment if they are not accompanied by the tools that enable success.
3. Feedback. Empowering people requires leaders to cycle back and provide feedback. People in the empowerment zone need to know that they are doing well, meeting (or exceeding expectations), and functioning within our intent. If they are not on the right track, a course correction that provides positive, encouraging alignment will make all the difference. Praise, followed by training and guidance, helps keep people motivated and confident -- key to life in the empowerment zone.
That's it. There's probably more (and I hope you'll share them with me), but these three steps are the difference between empowerment and abandonment. Education + Opportunity + Feedback = Empowerment. All three keys are necessary to unlock the Empowerment Zone. Providing teammates all three will indeed serve as the entrance into the world in which people can confidently and capably operate without guidance, make appropriate decisions, and take the sort of aggressive actions that can make good teams great. Empowerment is Leader Business!