Empower Employees – a Tip for Managers

What do you have to do to really empower employees? There is a weekly tip that highlights a frustration shared by many managers.  It reads:

“Arrgh!!! I have a few employees that just won’t think for themselves. They are driving me crazy!”

Managers often express some version of this sentiment. Maybe you can relate. If you have a short term solution that lets you keep your sanity I would love to hear it.

The long term solution is to focus employees on the big picture. Describe your vision. Think goals, timing, quality, etc. Paint a clear picture of what you want.

Then, when you are asked to make decisions that they should be able to answer for themselves use a coaching approach. Refer them back to the vision and ask what they think would be best.

A reader responded to my request for solutions that work quickly. She writes:

First, managers have to look at themselves – what did I do that caused employees to not think for themselves? How do you react when an employees makes a decision that’s not perfect or correct? Do you use this as a learning opportunity?

Next talk to the employee to find out why – they’re not making decisions? It could be because of a co-worker or something else.

These are a couple of great ways to be proactive and empower employees. Both alternatives ask that you see, recognize, everything that is a going on. What motivates employees to check in for every decision? Identify all the factors that affect the employees behavior, including your own. Ask yourself how you are contributing to keeping things the way they are. Having people coming to us all the time demonstrates that we are needed. At the same that it frustrates us, at some level it may also reinforce how valued we feel.

What are your thoughts? What else can a manager do to encourage people to think for themselves?

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2 Responses to “Empower Employees – a Tip for Managers”

  1. Mark April 6, 2011 8:51 am
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    Great insights. One observation I had after reading this is: after a certain point if a particular employee can’t seem to sufficiently think for themselves and display a certain level of internal leadership, drive and commitment, it may be evident that they’re not the best fit. So I’m wondering if, in your experience Cindy or in readers’, is there a general “magic number” of attempts to get employees to turn around on this, after which it’s time to show them the door? Or is the answer not a number of times but rather “It depends on the employee, company/workplace, and other factors”? If the answer were more around the former, it would be helpful to have some kind of general guidelines like “Turnaround Attempt 1 – suggestion you do [blank]; Turnaround Attempt 1 – suggestion you do [blank]” so that leaders and managers could have a benchmark set of practices to compare against. What do you think?

  2. cventrice April 7, 2011 2:23 pm
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    Hi Mark.

    I don’t have a magic number for tries. It is more about trying something different each time to find the right way to connect and engage.

    Not long ago I heard from a manager who had an employee with a bad attitude whose work was good, but was bringing down the entire team. She tried praise and appreciation, getting to know him, etc. She had even tried a more punitive approach, writing him up for his interactions with the team. Then a project came along that played to his strengths and expertise. She put him in charge of it and saw a complete turnaround.

    This is what I mean about trying something different. Things weren’t going to get better no matter how often she praised him. He was wired differently.

    So, rather than a number, I would say that when all the options are used up it is probably time to show them the door.