October 4, 2017

All Hands on Deck: Empowering Employees in a Time of Accelerating Change

What if an employee, regardless of job title, was positioned to make a suggestion that improved efficiency or added to the bottom line?

What if she had an innovative idea that led to a critical strategic direction?

What if she had the ability to provide needed leadership?

What if she could transform a ho-hum monthly newsletter into an interesting, much needed communication vehicle?

What if you could form a higher-functioning team based on your knowledge of each team members talents, skills, and knowledge?

What if his or her talent was never recognized and an opportunity was never made available to bring it to the forefront?

“Empowering employees” has been a consistent theme in recent years. Indeed, getting all hands on deck and utilizing all of their talents and abilities has never been more critical than it is today when change in multiple ways is not just rapid but accelerating.

  • The technology revolution has exploded, nearly doubling its capacity every two years (Moore’s Law!).
  • Globalization, often fueled in part by technology, has connected most everyone living anywhere and knowledge is at the fingertips of everybody.
  • Climate change is rapidly becoming a priority for local, state, and national governments around the globe and this is directly affecting many businesses and organizations.

Forward thinking business and organizations recognize that the enormity and rapidity of change pose both serious challenges and amazing opportunities.  How does the leadership of a business or organization hope to keep up with this? The answer is that accelerated change requires accelerated innovation. All available oars need to be in the water.

Developing a fully engaged workforce is not easy. While many acknowledge the importance, the conversation often does not get to the “how to” when it comes to empowering employees and because of this many businesses and organizations are operating at considerably less than their full potential.    

Every employee, (and in the case of non-profit organizations volunteers as well) has a unique set of talents, skills, knowledge and interests. Few businesses and organizations are aware of everything their employees could potentially offer, and in many cases the organizational culture is not conducive to taking advantage of all they would be able to contribute. How to make this happen? 

The challenge is formidable, but achievable. Empowering employees requires time, attention, an on-going commitment, and a significant change in culture. Steps that need to be taken include:

  • Familiarizing every employee with the core activities of the business or non-profit organization
  • Becoming knowledgeable of here-to-fore unrecognized talents, skills, knowledge, and interests that are present in every employee and volunteer. This can be done with some interesting, interactive assessments, by asking questions and listening, and by observation.
  • Aligning the talents, abilities, knowledge and skills that come to the forefront with the core activities and operations of a business or organization. Examples are product innovations, marketing, customer experience, sales, internal and external communication, employee morale, etc.
  • Providing educational assistance to employees who wish to develop skills and acquire knowledge that will benefit the company or organization. In many cases this will also propel employees towards the career to which they aspire- frequently within the same business or organization. There are multiple ways to accomplish this, many of which are low-cost and many more that can be accessed on-line.
  • Encouraging all employees at the time they are hired and regularly thereafter to think beyond the confines of their job descriptions in order to consider innovative approaches and creative ideas that would benefit the company or organization.
  • Taking deliberate actions to create a culture that encourages every employee to utilize her talents, skills, knowledge, and interests in order to move the business or organization forward. While this article is too short to go into to all of the specifics, a few of the more universal ones are:    
  1. Involve all employees in the strategic planning process; it builds commitment and support and often results in creative, innovative ideas being expressed.
  2. Involve employees in determining company or organization goals and objectives; additionally, assist employees with developing individual goals and objectives and meet with each of them regularly to monitor and encourage progress.
  3. Recognize that the development and exploration of new ideas and directions is “work time” and give individuals and teams that submit accepted concept ideas the time and resource needed to research, explore, and expand upon them.
  4. Have an open and transparent sharing of information between and across all employee groups. Additionally, provide structured ways for employees to make their ideas, thoughts, feelings, and observations known. This can include staff meetings, team meetings, retreats, and one-on-one interactions.
  5. Continuously be thinking of ways to align employees’ job responsibilities in ways that utilize their specific talents, skills, knowledge and interests in addressing company or organizational needs and opportunities.

There are many other culture building and employee empowering actions that are critical to sustaining future success but are specific to different types of businesses and organizations.

In closing it is imperative that businesses and organizations, no matter their location, size, or nature take deliberate steps to position themselves for a fast-forwarding future by becoming familiar with all that each employee has to offer, building and maintaining an empowering culture, and providing opportunities for continuous employee involvement. Employees will welcome the opportunity to contribute and the permanent whitewater world we are living in demands it.

NOTE:   Simply Superior Consulting will be offering a workshop entitled “All Hands on Deck: Empowering Employees in a Time of Accelerating Change” at the GLCYD Non- Profit Conference on Thursday, October 12 and again at the Lake Superior Community Partnership’s Business to Business Expo and Workshop on Thursday, October 26.