How to Empower Employees to Be Decision Makers

by Creating Change Mag
Black woman sharing presentation with coworkers.

The road to business success is paved not just with smart processes and great equipment but with empowered employees. When you give workers the autonomy to make decisions without asking permission first, you do them a great service. You also put your organization on the road to lower employee turnover and higher internal satisfaction ratings.

These aren’t just suppositions, either. Recent findings from Pew Research on why workers are leaving positions support the practice of employee empowerment. Two of the three most common reasons people resigned from their jobs relate to autonomy. A full 63% of respondents said they left because they saw no chance for advancement. Another 57% cited a general sense of disrespect from their colleagues.

By entrusting employees to make important choices, you can avoid both of these problems. People who are given responsibility know that they’re not going to be overlooked for future advancements or opportunities. At the same time, they know they’re respected enough to be treated like thoughtful, pragmatic adults.

Empowering your team members has other benefits aside from reducing churn and improving morale. When you and other supervisors don’t have to sign off on everything, your workflows can happen faster. Plus, you’ll find that you have the time to work on other areas of your business.

With so many benefits, you may want to start empowering your workers right away. The following measures can help you gain momentum and buy-in quickly.

1. Shorten all unnecessary approval processes.

How many steps does it take to get different tasks approved in your company? Anything that requires at least two (if not multiple) approvals can cause delays and frustration. Aim to find out where your longest approvals are and then shorten them by authorizing employees to take action.

As research from advisory services firm McChrystal Group shows, employees are missing deadlines because of unnecessarily long decision-making protocols. Fewer than half of workers agreed that decision-makers above them gave them input quickly enough to carry out tasks. As a result, one-third felt that organizational decisions came too late to be fully effective.

This doesn’t mean that some of your approvals won’t require authorization from a manager, executive, or you. However, chances are good that many authorization practices are merely hampering your ability to optimize your business. Handing over the reins to employees can reverse this problem immediately.

2. Give employees structured decision limits.

It would be unfair to your employees to give them authority without any parameters. For example, telling your customer service agents that they can “do anything necessary” might sound bold. Unfortunately, the statement doesn’t give any direction or limits. As a result, an agent might give away thousands of dollars of goods or services for free. Another might make promises that are difficult to keep.

As part of your initiative to authorize your people, outline a framework for them to make decisions. You might allow them to carry out tasks up to a certain dollar amount, especially if they’re client- or vendor-facing. You might also set up a flowchart to assist them in coming up with solutions.

Ultimately, you want to create structure so employees feel supported as well as guided. Over time, you may want to expand authority limits. At the beginning, set them at appealing but secure levels.

3. Treat ineffective decisions as learning opportunities.

Psychological safety is incredibly important for employees. No one wants to feel scared to stand out or own an idea. To promote psychological safety within your program of employee empowerment, take ineffective decisions in stride. Don’t point out what the worker did wrong or cause a scene, especially in front of their coworkers or customers. Instead, use it as a coaching moment.

Let’s say that an employee in sales gave a deep discount to a client. Unfortunately, the discount ended up eating away any profit that the company would have made from the sale. Rather than getting angry, set up a time to talk privately with the salesperson. Seek to understand the rationale behind the employee’s thought process.

You can’t assume that employees have the same background and expertise that you do. Most aren’t business owners themselves. Nevertheless, you can train them to think like CEOs by sharing your insights. Again, think of these roadblocks as a chance to mentor, not a chance to discipline.

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4. Show gratitude for innovative decisions.

McKinsey & Company has found that only 10% of leaders are pleased with their company’s ability to innovate. Though most wanted innovation, they weren’t seeing it within their organization. Do you feel likewise? Highlighting innovative decision-making when you see it can be one way to promote more of the innovation you seek.

This doesn’t mean you want to showcase every autonomous decision made by a team member. However, when you see something particularly unique or distinct, feel free to call it out. By making mention of it publicly, you’ll set the stage for three big things.

First, you’ll show that yes, you’re noticing what happens when employees take action. This indicates you’re serious about empowerment. Secondly, you’ll start to get more innovation from other workers. Innovative thinking and doing can spread like wildfire when it’s identified and nurtured. Finally, your company will start becoming more innovative within your industry. That’s a surefire way to maintain a competitive edge.

5. Provide employees with the tools and resources they need.

Allowing employees to make decisions is great. It’s not so great if they don’t have the tools or resources to foster smarter decision-making. When you initially bring up your desire to give workers more authority, ask what they need. That way, you’ll break down any barriers to their autonomy.

Be aware that you may have to give employees access to certain information, too. As an example, some team members may need deeper insights into the organization’s metrics. Many programs and systems allow this kind of limited access.

Remote workers may feel especially isolated from the data they need. Around 30% say they’re frustrated because they have to use outdated programs. The easiest way to reverse this issue is to put an investment behind your employee empowerment strategy.

You chose your team because you felt they had the skills your company needs. But you might not be leveraging those skills to the fullest if you’re playing the role of micromanager. This year, relax your need to approve everything and give all your people the authority to act. You’ll see a big difference in morale, turnover, and the bottom line.

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