The Power of Empowering Employees

I recently had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants called “Aspen Creek” down the street from my home in Louisville, Kentucky. They have locations in Kentucky, Indiana and Texas. I usually have the habit of ordering one of several dishes that I typically enjoy. This visit I noticed the menu had changed and there were a few new options. I went ahead and ordered one of the new dishes, Pot roast”, since I haven’t had pot roast in a while and it is not something that I normally would think of cooking, I thought I’d give it a try. When it was served, it looked great and smelled wonderful. After taking two bites, it just was not something I really cared for. I saw a few others around me enjoying it, but it was just not what I expected. My server asked if I liked it and I told her, “Not really”, without asking me any particulars or why I didn’t like it, she said, “No problem, I can take it back and get you something else, what would you like?” I decide I would go to my standby, a Salmon Caesar salad. Within a few minutes, I had my replacement meal. My server said, “I’m sorry you didn’t like the pot roast, would you like a free dessert for the inconvenience?” of course I said yes.

I did not have to wait for someone to “Get the manager”. The server did not have to waste a bunch of her time finding the manager. I did not have to explain the reason for my displeasure. I was offered a free dessert for the inconvenience. Yet there was nothing that they did wrong, it was just my preference that caused me to dislike what I ordered.

In contrast, at another restaurant, just this past week in the Columbus, Ohio area I had to wait over 20 minutes to get a channel changed on a television in front of me because I wanted to watch a sporting event I saw on another TV on the opposite side of the building. I asked why the manager had to be involved, why can’t she just change the channel. The answer; “he won’t let anyone else do it, we have to get him to do it every time.” When the manager eventually did show up, he acted annoyed and irritated, as if someone had asked him to climb the roof and install an antenna in 100-degree weather! The server apologized to him twice for bothering him and he looked very upset. Of course, I missed the first 6 rounds of the boxing match that I wanted to watch.

No one ever apologized, nor said anything to me about the lengthy delay, nor even acknowledged my existence after that, except to just drop off the check in front of me with no comment or even a look. It was almost as if I was being punished for asking for something. I immediately posted my experience on their Facebook page while I was sitting there. After that incident, I started to look around at every employee who walked through, and never, during the remaining 15 minutes of my visit, did I see any of the employees smile or appear happy in anyway. However, I did see the manager and a server arguing with several customers about something on the check as I was leaving. In contrast, every time I go to my favorite place, Aspen Creek, everyone is smiling most all the time and never see any customers acting upset or irritated at all.

Yes, I know you probably don’t own a restaurant. However, running any business that requires interactions with customers has the potential for problems to occur. Back in the old days when I first hired in at the RCA Service Company as a Service Manager, it was less than a week when my field service technicians where aware of my existence and started calling me asking what they should do because there was a customer service complaint or problem. I was still green and had no clue as to what was going on, yet these people wanted me to make decisions about things that I knew virtually nothing about? I would just respond with asking them what they would do, then tell them just do that. I finally had to have a meeting with everyone and explain that I did not need to be involved in every little thing. They now had the authority to make decisions in the field without my approval and that I would let them know if things got out of hand. I then realized in that meeting that my predecessor was the one who created this, because he had the need to micro manage everything. It took a little bit of time for my team to get accustomed to being empowered. Sure, they made mistakes, but, it was okay, mistakes happen during the process of changing people’s habits. I expected that.

It typically takes a more than a meeting or two to change the habits of employees and managers. It is a lot more complex and sometimes difficult to empower people to make their own decisions and be more involved in the process of change, but it is worth it. The idea of stopping the act of micromanaging can be a difficult task and must come from the top of the organization and facilitated by the people who have been micromanaging. The rule of “I just want everyone to do things my way” with no other options, never works in an environment that requires fast responses to the needs of the customer while trying to keep productivity and performance levels up.

Empowering employees is a culture shift, especially if the team has been restricted due to micromanagement. Traditionally, the role of the manager was to keep processes and people under tight control to make sure everyone was following the prescribed methods. Employees behavior is closely monitored and controlled. Nothing is done without approval. Fortunately, there are much better ways of running a business.

Managers and supervisors probably feel like they are stuck somewhere between imposing complete control and to the extreme, complete anarchy. Many leaders believe they must choose one or another, either control or freedom, as if they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. This is where implementing and creating an empowered workforce must be designed specifically for the needs of your business. For example: You may have encountered challenges with some employees not getting signatures on documents or their tablets before leaving. Instead of just immediately reacting with threats or penalties. It may resolve the problem better to ask the offending employee why this is happening and how he or she can keep the problem from arising again. You would allow them the opportunity to resolve the problem within an expected time, let’s say, two weeks. After that period of agreed time, the employee would then already know and would have agreed during the first meeting, that there was going to be unfortunate consequences. In the traditional way of management, the employee would not have the opportunity to resolve the issue himself. Instead he would receive some sort of discipline with no opportunity to come of with a solution alone.

When implementing change of any kind it is important to get buy-in from everyone and soliciting ideas from everyone is essential to success. When deciding to give your team additional responsibility when it comes to their daily tasks and decisions, it is important to understand that there will be a transition period. During this transition period, people will make mistakes, people will still be asking for permission and some of your team members may push back on the idea that they have a little bit more power and control over their daily responsibilities and interactions. This is normal.

Not sure if your team is empowered or not? Here is a simple checklist to go through:

In an un-empowered workplace:

  • People usually are negative

  • People are not very excited or happy about what they do

  • People only do enough to get by

  • People do not speak openly about problems or ideas

  • People are suspicious of the company and others on their job

  • People do not help each other

Unempowered people have the following feelings:

  • They don’t matter

  • They should keep quiet and not share ideas

  • Not much of their skills are needed

  • No one cares about what they want or need

  • Fear getting in trouble

Empowered people have the following feelings:

  • They feel like they make a difference

  • They know that they are responsible for their results

  • They are part of a team

  • They can use their full talents and abilities

  • They have control over how they do their jobs

  • They take initiative

  • They want the organization to do well and meet objective

If you would like more information on how to implement changes in your workplace or create a more collaborative and empowered workforce, contact me directly through email at

Best of luck in your success!

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