Empowerment

We all know the word, we all want it, but do we foster it in the business we run? In today’s work environment, where layers of management are being stripped to be more efficient and profitable, we must empower people to think and act on their own.

I love to give the example that most of us have faced: We go out to dinner and something is wrong with our meal. We are looking at the server to do something for us. In a restaurant where the staff is empowered, the server immediately says something like “I am so sorry, we will not charge you for that” or they may offer a free drink or dessert.

What has just happened is that the anger you have is defused at that moment and your meal is taken back and fixed to your liking.  In the restaurant where the power is still at the manager level you may wind up with the same “free” offer, however the offer may come 10 or 15 minutes later. In that time, you have probably been upset and the entire table can see your frustration.

The same things happen in business all the time.  The expression “let me get my manager” is a trigger that the person you are dealing with is not empowered to make a decision. Your first thought is probably “next time, I will just call the manager.” 

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Look at your own organization. Have you created an environment where the people who are interfacing with customer (internal, external or patient) are not allowed to address problems on their own?  Do you have supervisors and managers where too much time is spent giving approvals for issues that the customer facing person could have done on their own? Have you asked yourself “why?”

You don’t need to let people do whatever they want all the time.  You should set guidelines for your team, especially new hires and if just starting to empower the team. Taking the restaurant example again, the wait staff should know on the first day that “mistakes do happen, and here are the guidelines you are empowered to make on your own.”

Many senior managers believe in empowerment, but they forget to check if this is followed through the rest of their organization.  What is even more important is to inform new mangers what your feelings are on this subject.  Here’s an example of what happens way too often: a manager leaves your company/office and someone new comes in.  Under the past manager people could make decisions as long as they let the manager know after the fact.   The new manager comes in and says “I like when people make decisions on their own, just let me know before you tell the customer.”

What the new manager just did is deflated the ego of the people on her/his team and also is starting a new role with people thinking “great, a new person on a power trip.” This is not the way to start a new job.  Empowerment can easily be replaced with the word “trust.”  Team members want to feel that management trusts them to make the right choices and so they feel better about themselves.

Giving power is power, as people appreciate the trust you show in them.  In past articles I have written about leadership and how leaders often “tell” people what to do, instead of “guiding” them to the decisions they knew in the first place.  We need to get off our own ego trip and allow people to use their own ego to do the best job they can do.

As many of the people who read these articles are in a dental office, it is important to understand that the best offices have the best leaders. In many cases, the office manager is the person who sets the tone, in others it is the dentist.  In either case, look at the positions in the office and make sure each person feels part of the team, knows what the guidelines are, and that they have your trust till they abuse it.  People who feel trusted and empowered will remain on your team a lot longer than those who have to ask for permission all the time.

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