Six Ways to Thwart Employee Empowerment

This article accompanies Empowering Employees .

Sunday, October 2, 2011
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Attempting to empower employees won't be effective without making sure employees are engaged and capable of complying with the mission

Here are six ways to make sure empowerment efforts fail.

Insufficient leadership.

When an organization lacks a clear vision of its key customer mission and organizational values, and the employees have no clear foundation on which to base their actions, you face an immediate challenge.

What does the organization stand for in terms of customer satisfaction? What are its core principals in terms of how it treats people or priorities? What is the organization doing at all levels to engage people in a mission they understand and that has meaning to them?

Empowerment cannot thrive unless your organization and its employees have clear answers to those questions. 

Overlook the connection between customers and employees.

To profit from empowerment, your organization needs to make sure employees understand how their actions can directly or indirectly affect a customer or a colleague trying to help a customer. Many organizations put silos between sales and marketing, and the internal employees who deliver the promises.

Profiting from empowerment requires alignment so the actions of your employees align with what the customer wants or expects.

Poor communication.

The organization will need to systematically convey the mission, vision and values to their employees, as it is increasingly difficult to get peoples' attention. The bigger the organization, the greater the communication challenges.

Organizations usually put much more emphasis on communications with customers or distribution partners than with employees.

Empowerment requires an internal marketing component that, depending on the organization, can involve face-to-face meetings, web-based engagement portals and social-networking platforms, print media, promotional products, etc. -- whatever it takes to break through the clutter.

Ineffective or nonexistent training.

People can only do what they are capable of doing; they need to understand not only the vision and values but how their actions can help advance the mission on a practical level.

Empowerment efforts without training are headed for trouble. Training failures often occur at the middle-and lower-management level -- the closer you put an untrained manager to the front lines, the more often you turn away customers.

Empowerment requires both management and employees trained to understand the mission, values, and how their actions can affect success.

Insufficient rewards and recognition.

If your organization's management doesn't care about an employee's special effort to please an external or internal customer, or contribute or effectively implement valuable new ideas, why should employees?

Rewards and recognition work best not as carrots, but as a means to make people feel valued for their contributions.

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When people who have taken the extra initiative to satisfy a customer or help the organization achieve a goal get the same attention as the top-performing salesperson, it sends a message that bolsters your communications.

Overlook measurement.

That which gets measured, gets done. If your organization considers empowerment to be another warm and fuzzy buzzword, that's all it will be.

New social-networking tools make it easy for organizations to slap together an "empowerment" program. The opportunity is to profit from the platform to develop fully integrated programs to generate measurable goals, such as: generate XYZ number of positive customer feedbacks, identify XYX number of new money-saving ideas, save XYZ number of customers about to bail, or broader measures such as: repeat customers, word-of-mouth customers.

Similar metrics apply to employees, such as: turnover, recruitment costs, length of service, employee costs as a percentage of sales, etc.

Empowerment programs without engaged people have little staying power. To make the most of empowerment, organizations need to combine all of the above elements in order to make sure that people feel fully engaged with their mission and are capable of fulfilling it.

Bruce Bolger is managing director of the Enterprise Engagement Alliance, a coalition of organizations dedicated to promoting the link between financial results, customer loyalty and employee engagement. The EEA has created a formal curriculum for the implementation of enterprise engagement strategies. Bolger has more than 20 years of experience in all areas of engagement.

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