Whatever sector of business you operate in, one thing you will absolutely want to encourage in order to secure business growth is empowering the people who work there. It can feel like a huge step if you take the journey from solo entrepreneur to owner of a larger business. In fact, being able to delegate effectively and hand over some control when you’ve put your heart and soul into building a company is something that presents new leaders with their biggest challenge.
Once past that initial phase, you may then find that you start to take on staff more rapidly as operations expand. This is a tremendously exciting time in the life cycle of your business, but it’s also important to set things up in the right way. There is always going to be a learning curve, but setting a company culture, clear expectations about keeping customers happy and ways of acting are up to you from day one.
Learning to properly empower your employees is a move that benefits everyone. It creates trust, it encourages independent thinking and diversity of opinion and it breeds loyalty. And in turn that means higher levels of employee productivity, job satisfaction and less turnover. So it can only be in your best interests to make it happen
Empowering your workforce involves letting go a little; giving team members implicit permission to trust their own judgement and make decisions on behalf of the organisation. It means being clear in the goals of the business, so that everyone understands what is trying to be achieved and how they can move towards it. Get it right, and you’ll arrive at a sustainable business, growing as a result of multiple good ideas, capabilities and diverse strengths. So, how do you set about consciously trying to achieve this collective state of being?
Master The Art Of Delegation: It can be a big lesson in life to learn to hand things over to others. It plays into all our inherent weaknesses about control and how we are perceived by others, and for leaders who have built their business up from nothing personally, it can be a huge step to hand over control of what they have created. Even when we realise our role is to do the big picture thinking and planning that develops the business rather than manage the day-to-day running of it, surrendering control is often easier said than done.
The first thing to know about delegation is that the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Take the time to separate out some mid to low level responsibilities that you’re still claiming. Yet to pick things that are important and cost you a fair amount of time but that won’t cause major problems if not completely perfectly for the first few times by someone else. Think about how you could set SMART goals for these, so that expectations and outcomes are clear, and match the task with the person – while it’s good if it’s something that stretches their abilities, giving them something way above what they’re capable of will produce the opposite effect and become very demotivational.
These processes should make it easier for you to take a step back and let your employee handle the task how they see fit. Of course, you should be prepared to make yourself available for advice if needed at the beginning, but make a conscious effort not to step in unasked – even if you can see things going wrong. Remember that failure often teaches us far more than everything going perfectly, and that bumps in the road are how we grow as people. Think back to your own mistakes and what they have taught you along the way. Take the chance to do a follow up with the person you’ve handed over to; it’s a chance for you both to reflect, them to reflect on their own suggestions for improvement and you to contribute anything relevant as well.
It’s a process that takes time on both sides, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you take a while to nail it.
Prioritise Training: Constantly bringing new skills and ways of thinking into your business is a definite asset. When we become too insular, we sometimes forget to innovate, and you only have to look at the story of former household names like Kodak And Toys R Us to see that. Learning from outside of your own industry and from a variety of sources is a huge advantage, and when you have employees they can also be undertaking the process with you and adding their own elements into the business. Often a training budget can be the first thing to get cut when you’re trying to save costs, but that’s a mistake. Invest in the skills of your employees and you also invest in the future of your business.
Make Processes Easier: One surprising factor which can often hamper easy delegation and an empowered, proactive employee culture are simply the day to day processes that get overly mired in process as an organisation grows. Things like authorising payments, sourcing suppliers and having access to senior diaries to arrange meetings. These are everyday processes that employees will encounter dozens of times, but that have a potential to act as blockers of autonomy.
Ask for feedback on what these barriers are, as it’s often hard for senior leadership to understand as they are not close to the issue. Then set about putting in place measures to help—things like a multi currency card for speedy business purchases or diary visibility can have a big impact and are very simple to set up.
Often these small details get overlooked, but they can have a big impact and be quite transformative when properly addressed. Some companies find success setting up an employee forum to formalise the identification and reporting of issues like this.
Set A Vision And Values: One factor which can help to ensure that the decisions employees make align with the direction of the company is to create a vision and values document. This sets out the ‘why’ of the business, as opposed to things like your business plan which cover more of the ‘how’. Having a clearly articulated vision has a lot of benefits. Employees are going to feel far more connected when they buy into and share a sense of mission – and the same is also true for your customers.
Everything resonates better when it’s authentic, and knowing exactly why your company does what it does is about uncovering this authentic spirit and communicating it. Not only is the result usually employees who are loyal to the company for reasons other than just their next paycheck, but it also becomes easier to delegate, as everyone is aware of the vision and direction and can make their own decisions accordingly.
Celebrate The Wins: We can get so focused on the forward progress that we occasionally forget to celebrate the progress our teams have made. But part of an inclusive, empowered business is definitely making the most of the wins along the way. Showing appreciation for a job well done, an improvement in process or a victory not only increases the chances of that person doing it again, but also inspires others and shows them what’s possible and that the company appreciates it when hard work is put in. It encourages action, problem solving and progress, putting those values at the heart of what you do. So don’t hold back on finding opportunities to praise and uplift.
And Analyse The Failures: Sometimes things will go wrong, that is just a fact of life and of doing business. And it can be hard to accept those mistakes when you know you would have done something differently. While it’s very important not to beat employees up too much about failure—especially if they had good intentions—what is important is that everyone learns from the mistake. Building analysis into what you do and your working processes is a great idea. In fact, if you choose to adopt an agile working methodology then conducting a ‘sprint review‘ is a key part of the process. Take the time to get a variety of different perspectives on how a project has gone, what went well and what could be done better next time and find a way of collectively pooling this knowledge, it will only benefit your business and help to make it stronger in the long run.
The steps you can take to empower your workforce aren’t difficult, they just take a little practice. As you grow into your own leadership, it becomes easier to foster the attributes of others and become more comfortable with allocating responsibility to others to further their own journey. After all, leadership is not about convincing others of your superiority, it’s about taking on board a range of different perspectives and deciding the overall best course of action to move things forward. The result is generally a happier, stronger and more sustainable company; and that’s a legacy that any leader would be proud to create.