Leaders who demonstrate a genuine interest in the lives and growth of their employees are already on the right track to earning their respect, boosting workplace morale, and inspiring employee engagement. When leaders go a step further and entrust their employees with the authority to act on their own—all while giving them the encouragement and support they need to reach their highest potential—it is easier to mobilize them to stretch themselves in ways they never thought possible.
Empowered employees tend to feel a stronger sense of purpose and are willing to go the extra mile. They will feel listened to, not just asked for their ideas and opinions. They will also have greater confidence and know when to use their own best judgement to manage issues, overcome challenges, and resolve problems. In essence, empowered employees are more likely to have the knowledge, resources, and competence to deliver the best possible experience for customers.
From a customer experience perspective, empowering employees to meet the needs and expectations of clients makes good business sense. High turnover rates caused by disengaged employees can erode the quality of the customer experience. Longer wait times may occur as new employees learn the ropes and lower customer satisfaction results cause irritation for both customers and employees alike.
At its core, empowerment is about power. Power can be about domination, authority, influence and control—while the act of empowering is to give power or authority to someone else. Empowerment helps people gain control over their own lives. Giving employees the power and authority to direct their work lives drives improved organizational performance.
A leader who focuses on holding power instead of using it to drive performance will typically exhibit behaviors such as: monopolizing team discussions, failing to delegate responsibility to the team regularly, and overseeing or micromanaging every project. They will frequently use non-empowering words such as “you should” or “you must” and have a very controlled work space by not allowing employees to drop by unannounced or without a formal appointment. Blame is often directed at employees without taking on the full responsibility expected of leaders.
Employees do not respond well to power-driven leaders who control their teams. They need leaders who are willing to channel their power by challenging and facilitating individuals on the team to improve, advance, and excel. These leaders actively study and consistently communicate how everyone on the team connects. They equip people with processes that enable them to transform their work or their team, and to teach others how to do it themselves. It is the essence of great leadership, they desire a positive and lasting impact on their people and the organization. John Quincy Adams said it best: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
Empowered employees play a critical role in delivering exceptional customer experiences. They make hundreds of decisions every day across multiple touch points, providing services and meeting customer requirements. While training and standard operating procedures help to ensure a consistent and intentional experience, it is during those moments of truth—the instance or occasion when a customer will form a positive or negative opinion about an organization based on how the employee handles the occasion—that can make all the difference. Leaders must equip employees to understand how to resolve problems on the spot, lead efforts that advocate for improvements in the customer experience, and raise issues that front-line employees know from experience are customer irritants.
“Hire good people and leave them alone,” said William McKnight, president of 3M during the 1930s. These words of wisdom still hold true today. The more leaders and their executive teams empower managers and employees, the more they will attract opportunities for better ideas, contributions, collaborations, solutions, and results. To empower employees is to give them greater purpose, motivation, support, and confidence to deliver the best possible customer experience at every opportunity.