Don’t Be Afraid To Empower Your Employees

(By Mike Periu)

Think about all of the different ways in which you trust your employees today. Communicate that to them. Make them aware of the high degree of trust you have placed in them. Discuss the link between trust and empowerment. Then ask them for feedback on the current state of trust within your business. Do they feel micromanaged? Do they acknowledge the degree of trust you have placed in them?

My wife and I had dinner recently at a Thai restaurant close to our home. The place was absolutely packed—a testament to the quality of the food and the low prices. When the exasperated waitress brought our check it totaled $27.02—tax and tip automatically included. I seldom carry cash but I just happened to have $27 on me. I told the waitress that I could give her $27 and call it even. What a mistake on my part!

At first she was confused; then suspicious; then worried. She leaned over and whispered in my ear that she would have to check with the owner. She couldn’t make that decision. A two penny decision. I told her not to worry and gave her my credit card. So rather than lose two cents (and avoid being written about in a column) the restaurant paid 3.5 percent of the bill plus 40 cents to process my payment. This $1.35 might not seem worth the trouble but it represents a 6,750 percent increase in the cost of accepting my money.

Where does the blame belong?

I’m not blaming the waitress for this minor inconvenience. I blame the owner for not empowering her employees to make simple decisions. After dinner, I began to wonder how many financially detrimental decisions that restaurant made over the course of a day, a month, or a year due to this lack of empowerment among employees.

Why do businesses fail to empower employees?

1. Lack of trust

Many business owners simply don’t trust their employees. Perhaps someone took advantage of you in the past and you swore never to let that happen again. Or maybe it’s an assumption on your part that trusting people is a mistake in business.

Recognize that this lack of trust will cost you both time and money. It will also impede the long-term success of your business as the best employees will not work for someone that doesn’t trust them. I thought it was ironic that the waitress wasn’t trusted to make a two-cent decision yet was allowed to take orders, serve food, interact with customers, and make change.

2. Lack of systems

Other times business owners lack the necessary systems to monitor employees in such a way that permits a certain degree of flexibility and trust. Do you have an accounting system in place that captures fraudulent activity? Do you separate responsibilities within your company to minimize the temptation and opportunity for theft? Do you understand the numbers behind your business sufficiently to spot troubling patterns? Are you collecting the proper information to even conduct this type of analysis?

Both technology and procedures are necessary to ensure that trusting employees to a certain extent will not create a free-for-all situation abused by the wrong people.

3. Lack of experience

For many business owners, the experience of ownership is new. It’s the first time you own a business and unless it’s a franchise there really isn’t a “how-to guide” on managing employees. The default position for them is to be wary of others, including employees.

The high cost of not empowering your employees

Failing to empower your employees can be an expensive proposition. If you reflect on your degree of employee trust and feel it isn’t sufficient, consider implementing the following recommendations:

1. Start gradually

There is no reason to go from one extreme to the other. Start simply. Set a certain monetary benchmark and empower your employees to use their judgment on these matters. Maybe it’s a nickel. Maybe it’s one thousand dollars. It depends on your business. Make sure that you capture these decisions and then use them for future training purposes so new employees understand how to use this empowerment appropriately.

2. Communicate about trust

Think about all of the different ways in which you trust your employees today. Communicate that to them. Make them aware of the high degree of trust you have placed in them. Discuss the link between trust and empowerment. Then ask them for feedback on the current state of trust within your business. Do they feel micromanaged? Do they acknowledge the degree of trust you have placed in them?

3. Monitor and adapt

Make sure that you have appropriate monitoring systems in place to ensure that the few bad apples are caught without jeopardizing the overall state of trust at your organization. Expect that mistakes will happen while you adjust your degree of trust. Adapt along the way.

(Source: Openforum)

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