Empowered employees have clout. They innovate. They suggest systems improvements that can lower costs and boost margins. You don’t want mindless drones working with you. You want coworkers and employees with ideas and opinions.

You also want to foster a workplace environment that encourages employees to speak up, speak out, fix it, collaborate, cooperate, and increase productivity across the board.

Some company owners may believe that they know what’s best for the company, and in most cases, they do have the big picture and a map of the road to business success – the “20,000 foot view” that business owners and managers talk about.

However, your employees – managers, department heads, the factory floor team, human resources –can provide a wealth of information that you aren’t getting unless you ask them and empower them to speak freely without fear of reprisal.

Even if you own the company, if you’re doing “it” wrong – whatever “it” is – you want to know about it. If it’s about bruising your ego, leave ego at the door when you arrive and pick it up on the way home.

Empowered employees have a stake. They want the company to succeed. It’s their future, too. The question is, how do you empower employees without losing control of daily business activities?

Here are some suggestions:

Create a corporate culture that values open communication between managers and employees. Not just a suggestion box outside the HR office, either. Provide employees with a simple means of reaching out to company management. A separate email address for employee inbound email is a simple solution. Make sure your employees know that their input is valued and weighed carefully.

Open communication enables all employees to offer suggestions for company innovation, turning your staff into an in-house think tank.

Create a policy of hiring from within, and giving raises and bonuses without promotions. Hire from the ranks and every employee sees the opportunity to advance within the company – a strong motivation to stay with you. It’s an intangible benefit that pays big dividends daily to make it known that employees can advance.

Just as important, make sure employees know that they don’t have to be promoted to earn a raise or better benefits. You may not want to lose the head of shipping and receiving – the one who keeps orders moving like a well-oiled clock. Make sure that valued employee enjoys regular raises, better benefits, and some perks thrown in. Keep in-place employees on the payroll.

Hire people with values aligned with your own. You value integrity, honesty, communication, client care – you have a long list of personal values you bring to work each day.

If you have a strong work ethic, and your VP leaves early to play golf each week, that may not be a good fit. If you believe that your company does something of value for society, find people who hold the same beliefs. For example, if your company sells solar panels, it makes sense to hire others who believe that solar power is a means to lower carbon emissions – people with similar values to the ones you hold.

Encourage self-improvement in a tangible manner. If a staff member goes back to school to receive a higher level of certification, your company will benefit. A manager goes back to school for an MBA? Provide a subsidy to help defray the cost.

Trade shows, roundtables, industry conferences – pay the expenses to send company representatives to learn the latest and to network your business within the industry. A two-for-one win.

Define success. How will your company measure employee success? Monthly quotas? Number of closed deals? Creative problem solving? Employees who understand your company’s definition of success have a clear picture of how to proceed. It’s not just about the bottom line. It’s about sustained growth with a cohesive, empowered team.

Let them make mistakes. Don’t penalize a good effort or innovation – even if it doesn’t quite live up to expectations. Give all employees the latitude to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and improve performance over the long-term. Let them fail without reprisal.

Don’t just provide directions, provide the reasons behind the directions. Don’t assign tasks in a vacuum. Provide context for the directions. “We need you to do this so she can finish the report.” Context is a good motivator because the work each employee does is a contribution to the team.

Define the roles of each stakeholder. Create written job descriptions. And when a new project or business system is launched, define a clear chain of command that encourages all employees to express themselves within the definition of their responsibilities.

Insist on accountability. If employees aren’t accountable for their actions, you’ve lost control of the staff. Yes, encourage innovation, but also insist that the innovator explain what went wrong, why, and how it’s going to be fixed.

Praise loudly.  When an employee delivers, let the entire staff know. And let the whole team know how that valued employee will be rewarded for hitting one out of the park.

On the other hand, when there’s a need to correct employee behavior, provide constructive criticism privately. Quietly.

Celebrate accomplishments. Learn from setbacks.

One of the main objectives of a small business owner is to add value to the business. By empowering employees – employees who contribute daily to company success – these people tend to stay around longer, and to take a stronger interest in the success of their company.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of Zions Bancorporation, N.A. Member FDIC