Employee Empowerment, Your Ticket to Freedom

employee empowermentIt has been said that a sign of a great manager is one who can leave the office, take a vacation and not worry about what’s happening back at HQ. Letting go of our need to control every piece of paper, phone call or email transmission isn’t as easy as it seems. Many of us micro-manage or doubt the abilities of our employees due to bad experiences or having been burned in the past.

Get over it.

Learning to empower the people in your office to do their jobs, improve your business and utilize technology will pay you back tenfold.

Good news. It’s not that complicated.

Empowering employees comes down to one simple principle. Understanding what is most important to an employee and gives them satisfaction, then leveraging that knowledge to reward the employee when they achieve what is most important to you and your business. You hired the people in your office because they have innate qualities that separated them from the rest of the pack. You put them in their role because they are fulfilling the needs of the business, and obviously doing it well enough to stay there. Now all you need to do is groom them to be the leaders, task-masters, and expect the same from their peers. Here are a few ways to encourage and empower your team:

Promote Open Communication

Bosses often say ‘I have an open door policy’ but how many actually live by it?  Making it a point to invite people into your office to talk, saying hello to them as you pass by. Encouraging walk in conversations shows interest in their position and that they do have a voice.

One on One Time

Everyone feels special when they get to go to lunch with the boss, or get called into the office for a one on one meeting. These 30 minute to 1 hour blocks of time can tell you a tremendous amount about that employee’s motivations and overall job satisfaction. Together you’ll also uncover ways to improve operational areas of your business.

Encourage Learning

Lunch & learns, sharing tech tips, guest speakers. Even You Tube videos get the job done. When a team is trained with the skills they need to succeed, not just survive the whole business benefits. Efficiency is your ally, and there’s no better way to become efficient than by utilizing the technology and people you have to their fullest potential.

Accept Mistakes

I don’t think anyone reading this can honestly say they’ve never made a mistakes. They happen, that’s how we learn. Pigeonholing an employee into a cycle of self-doubt and guilt because they are afraid to make a mistake is unhealthy. Know that new employees are going to need some learning room, and existing employees might not have been trained properly, are only partially informed or just need help.

Define Every Role

There’s a difference between saying ‘that’s not my job’ and not actually knowing what your job is. Uncertainty breeds self-doubt and when employees are not confident in their direction they make hesitant decisions, pretty much paralyzing your business.

Equal Accountability

Everyone’s on the same team, working towards the same goals. Actions that do not drive the business forward, or distract others from their ability to do so should be dealt with accordingly. Regardless of position, family ties, or college friendships. Letting one employee slide while others pay the piper for their actions begets resentment and disdain.

Reward Business Wins

You would love a lower office supply bill, maybe a firm-wide discount at a health club, or lower group cell phone rates right? So encourage and reward employees for finding ways to save the business money. You can bonus them with 10% of the amount they save you, or do something as simple as getting to leave early on a Friday afternoon.

Hold Company Meetings

This is the difference between being a business owner, and being a business leader. Holding a company meeting, that isn’t about problems, clients and deadlines but more about goals, improvements and direction builds commitment, vision and unity. Employees want to feel like they are a part of something, something they can help build, contribute to. Without understanding what’s important to you, and your goals for the future, how are they supposed to help you get there? Share, engage, ask for ideas. You’ll be surprised how much feedback you get.

Say Thank You

Last, but never least be grateful for your employees. Honestly and truly grateful. What would happen if Tom, Sarah or Sally walked out on you tomorrow? What kind of situation would you be in? How many times has an employee taken heat from a client outside your door while you got to focus and work? Cookies, a thank you eCard, late starts, early departure. Whatever you can do to show you are paying attention will be the difference between that employee going the extra mile, or looking the other way.

One Closing Anecdotal Tale

A young man, and incredibly hard worker on one of my very first teams started to loose energy and decline performance in his second year with the firm. His attitude was slipping, and I was running from meeting to meeting paying little attention to what was happening. He was my right hand, my fallback, my second brain always making sure I had what I needed, until one morning when he called in sick. That morning, scrambling to collect my thoughts I realized how valuable he was, and how little I had done to find out what was important to him.

That’s the center of every employee puzzle. What is happening and valuable to them in their life. He had called in because he wanted to spend time with his grandfather who didn’t have much time left. Instead of requesting the time off, he took it on his own. Because he wasn’t comfortable approaching me, or was afraid to ask. It was my fault, I wasn’t paying attention to one of the most critical people in my business.

When he returned to the office, we sat down to chat. I asked him what would make the week better for him? Was there anything bothering him about his job, that made him take time without notice? He explained that if he could just have a late arrival two times per week, that would make a world of difference. We talked through timing and hours, informed his teammates, and went back to work. Not only did his performance improve but so did his personal happiness. Translating into a better client experience and quality work product. All because of one simple change.

About Chelsey Lambert

Chelsey Lambert served as the Chicago Bar Association's Law Practice Management Technology, Trainer and Coordinator from Nov 2013 - Sept. 2014