by Pierre A. Towns
Managers and HR pros can’t empower employees, but they can create an environment that motivates them to want to act in an empowered way.
When you create that environment, some employees will jump on the bandwagon and act empowered right away. But many of them just don’t have the confidence to risk failing if they empower themselves to make decisions or take actions without consulting a supervisor every step of the way.
Here is a 10-step model for encouraging and motivating employees. It will help them build the confidence they need to empower themselves to make decisions and take risks:
1. Help them figure out what they’re good at (or not good at). Are they risk-takers? Do they believe they control the things that happen in their lives? Once they understand their own personality traits, they can address their weaknesses and gain confidence. Tip: Provide a self-assessment tool to employees so they can use it on their own computers and keep the results private.
2. Set goals for behavior changes. Someone who wants to be less risk-averse, for example, could set a goal to take chances during an upcoming project. Tip: Tie part of the compensation for the employee (and his or her manager) to achieving that individual goal.
3. Remove the “buts.” That is, help the employee eliminate the reason for not changing and then take action that will allow the change. Example: Even if you have offered to help an employee pay for an advanced degree that would advance his career, he doesn’t enroll because he doesn’t want to make the time commitment. Spell out for the employee how far he can go at the company with the degree—and without it. Likewise, be frank with employees about personality traits or decisions that are holding them back.
4. Encourage employees to invest in themselves. The employee who goes to grad school at night or who accepts a transfer out of state is making a sacrifice that is likely to pay off. Tip: Encourage employees to embrace opportunities by rewarding them for their choices—for example, by paying tuition or presenting an award for completing a class.
5. Reward risk-taking. Make it OK for employees to step outside of their comfort zones without fear of ridicule or punishment—even if they fail. Many workers are afraid to speak up for themselves, present a wild idea or challenge the status quo. That’s especially hard these days. When organizations punish people for failing when they take risks, people stop taking them.
6. Remind them of their rights. Help workers understand why they are classified as exempt or nonexempt, contractors or staff. Part of being personally empowered is not relying on HR or an ombudsman to look out for you. Tip: Bolster your reputation as an honest and transparent HR department that helps employees.
7. Work within the system. It’s usually better for both employee and employer when they work together to solve conflicts before turning to outsiders. Tip: Maintain the confidentiality of employees who come to you with complaints, even if their grievance is with the organization.
8. Work collaboratively. Employees are more likely to achieve their goals or make changes if they let others in on their plans. HR pros can help employees get on track by serving as coaches and making resources available. Tip: Train supervisors to serve as coaches for their teams.
9. Constantly evaluate employees’ progress. Employees have to be able to measure their progress against their goals when they try to achieve self-empowerment. However, most don’t know how. Tip: HR pros are skilled at creating measures for change and dashboards for tracking progress. Help your organization’s employees develop performance measures. Offer feedback as they work toward change.
10. Foster continuous improvement. Positive reinforcement is the way to do that. Tip: Offer reinforcement, feedback and opportunities for every employee to practice new behavior that moves the organization forward.
Author: Pierre A. Towns is the founder and executive director of the Employee Empowerment Institute. He is also co-founder and managing partner of Human Resource Capital Consultants in
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