Empower Employees and Improve Your Business

by Stephanie Taylor Christensen on July 25, 2011
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In the age of social media, customers are empowered to say whatever they want about your business. Their positive feedback can be a great marketing tool. But when unhappy customers voice their displeasure online, it can wreak serious havoc on your brand reputation, and sales. You can’t control what customers say, but you can increase the likelihood that they’ll have a good experience. How? By empowering your employees.

Employee empowerment initiatives aren’t difficult to undertake, but they may contradict your entrepreneurial instincts. The self-employed are born leaders who like fairly immediate results. An empowered employee culture takes time to instill, and involves giving up some control. But, if you can adjust your tendencies to want to run the show, your business can benefit.

Scott Seibert, professor of management and organizations in the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa recently conducted a study called “Antecedents and Consequences of Psychological and Team Empowerment in Organizations: A Meta-Analytic Review,” on the effects of empowering employees. It revealed that empowerment initiatives don’t always take off quickly (especially in individualist cultures like ours). But, he found that employees who feel more empowered to begin with will react more strongly to continued empowerment initiatives. In other words, developing such a culture is a marathon, not a sprint.

Empowered employees can be a huge competitive advantage for a small business. Those with an empowerment culture report higher job satisfaction among staff, lower turnover, and reduced employee stress. Empowered workers are innovative, perform better at their jobs, and provide a better overall experience for customers.

Want to start down the road to empowerment? Integrate these three cultural changes into your company and start building a framework for happier employees… and happier customers.

Invest in staff. While offering competitive pay certainly helps, you can’t  buy empowered employees. It happens by demonstrating a clear commitment to continued education and career development for staff at all levels. Get creative and use your resources to build knowledge among your team. Start a mentor program within the company, and with your outside peers and professional networks. Offer workshops or invite guest experts who can coach staff in areas they express an interest in developing. Spend time to truly understand your employees’ long-term career goals, and how you can help make them reality.

Lead by example. Siebert’s study revealed that managers who are good role models inspire employees and help them feel that all tasks matter. Employees who perceive that you are only in business for the money, dislike customer service, or lack pride in your brand or service will emulate your attitude.

Welcome criticism. Encourage all employees to question practices and challenge the status quo. Instill the belief that all critiques are welcome, provided that they can propose an alternate solution, and can articulate why they feel it is better. Siebert says that giving employees an opportunity to have impact and influence on your business is key to building a culture of empowerment. Further, inviting feedback from employees “in the trenches” often reveals innovations that you would never have identified as a leader.

Stephanie Christensen is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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