There’s a fine line between caring emotionally about everything in your company and trying to accomplish every task yourself. While it may be essential for success, caring can be draining, but trying to do everything by yourself is a recipe for disaster.
I know — it feels good to be needed. But you don’t want people to depend on you for everything. There aren’t enough hours in the day to fit every task into your routine, and forcing the issue will paralyze your business. Instead, you need to empower your team to feel the same investment and passion for the business that you possess, and you must build a structure of empowerment into every facet of your company.
Breaking the Bottleneck
Every business leader dreams of the perfect team that produces amazing results, has a firm grasp on strategy, and brings amazing ideas to the table. Yet up to 35 percent of organizations still require two or more levels of managerial approval for simple human resource decisions — the opposite of an autonomous, empowering atmosphere.
These cumbersome processes stymie organizational growth and waste everybody’s time. If you trust employees to meet customers worth millions in potential revenue, then why demand approval for every minor detail of their work? Is it really necessary to have three people approve a single day off?
It isn’t just the employee’s time you’re wasting with this; you’re undermining your HR team as well. HR leaders should focus on developing employee talent and skills, but if they’re stuck recording expenses, tracking time and benefits, or dealing with other administrative tasks, they’ll never have time to drive employee productivity.
The Benefits of an Empowered Team
You want the best people on your team, but those have plenty of alternate options. So why should they choose to work for you?
An organization riddled with bureaucracy won’t top anyone’s list. But if you empower your employees and give them room to succeed, you’ll soon see an upturn in creativity, productivity, and morale — not to mention positive word of mouth that will raise the caliber of potential hires.
Empowered people make better decisions, align better with the strategy of your organization, and are ultimately more engaged and productive as a result. If employees constantly say, “I need to wait three days for HR, finance, or IT approval,” then something isn’t right with your processes. Just think of the productivity boost you could achieve by cutting that one sentence from your team’s vocabulary.
Establishing a Culture of Empowerment
Empowerment is all about alignment with the big picture of your company. Your team might not agree on all the details, but if you start with the directional elements first, you’re building on a much more solid foundation. Here are the four essentials to build this into your team:
1. Establish core values.
Strong values empower and make many rules obsolete. While good corporate governance requires well-documented rules, many of these rules are just the results of people’s behavior against generally expected values. Defining and, more important, demonstrating core values are the strongest forms of empowerment.
For example, if your core values are to hire the best people, you won’t need as many rules in place. You simply bring in the best recruits regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or age. This also means there is no need for a hiring policy that requires managers to use only recruiters that support that cause. They would simply require this themselves.
2. Ensure that structure follows vision.
Hierarchies need to support the vision or they’ll potentially lead to frustration. Making the vision a guiding idea and supporting it with a strong strategy is key to empowerment. With that in place, your structure is founded on solid ground.
You may want to start implementing this on a project basis and expand it over time. Running an ideation program while maintaining highly formalized approval processes may not be the best idea. Try it without rules, and with just a budget as your guide — you’ll be surprised how well that can go.
3. Embed transparency.
The more you share with your team, the stronger decisions each team member can make. That might mean sharing important information regarding the financial situation of the business, but it could also mean replacing formal and rigid processes with guidelines or directional policies.
For instance, instead of requiring HR or managerial approval for vacation days, you could issue a policy that vacation days need to be synced within teams. It doesn’t require a manager to realize that three members of a four-person team taking the same week off will create a problem. By embedding this transparency into daily processes, you empower employees to think about business with every decision.
4. Reach all people.
Empowerment requires the ability to reach all employees. While some of your team members have a desk and access to traditional digital communication such as email, the majority of working people don’t. On top of that, 37 percent of today’s workers telecommute regularly. Make sure that your communication actually reaches 100 percent of your people, including those with desks, those without, those working on your facilities, and those who work at home or on the road.
While that may sound like an issue of technology, it actually comes down to leadership. Most systems today are optimized for individual, siloed departments: HR for HR, CRM for sales operations, and finance for finance. But the actual users are nurses, consultants, mechanics, salespeople, and more. In a mobile world, the communication needs to be mobile, too.
The bottom line is that empowerment starts with letting go. Instead of detailed rules, you need to define the direction. Instead of building silos, you need to be transparent and share openly. And instead of focusing on a small elite set of technology users, you need to reach everyone on your team — no matter where they may be.
By Daniel Kraft, president and CEO of Sitrion.