by Eric Strafel, author of “The Frontline CEO: Turn Employees into Decision Makers Who Innovate Solutions, Win Customers, and Boost Profits“
To have an empowered workforce, you can’t just focus on employees as workers. You must see them and be interested in them as people. This requires you to create an environment in which everyone feels comfortable bringing their full, authentic selves to work. So much of the success of a company is based on employees putting in extra effort, approaching their jobs creatively, and being willing to rush in and fill any gaps that they see. There are two traits that every employee needs before they will do that. The first, is the desire or motivation to expend that extra effort, and the second is the energy to execute. The fact is that being an empowered employee takes more effort. It requires a greater portion of mental capacity and the ability to feel comfortable with the vulnerability inherent in taking risks or innovating.
Being empowered makes work more meaningful for most people, even though they have to invest more of their time and energy. Yet if there’s even a hint of bitterness or lack of trust in the workplace, then most employees won’t make that investment.
The same worker can do the same job for two different companies with different cultures and produce opposite results. To thrive, employees need to be immersed in a culture that empowers them, in which they can leverage their strengths, learn through trial and error, and find the team camaraderie that reinforces their contributions. By creating an environment where people can be their best and find meaning in their work, you’ll increase engagement and retention of employees who share your purpose and values.
When helping small businesses establish processes to manage employee performance, provide feedback, and develop their teams, I’ve used a few approaches to enable leaders to connect with their teams.
Make Sure Employees Know How Their Jobs Support the Company’s Purpose.
The first is to make sure every employee knows how their job supports the purpose of the company. Your company’s purpose is a description of the impact you want to make for customers—what you strive to achieve by solving a problem or providing value. Use every opportunity, from the first day a new employee walks in the door, to weekly or monthly one-on-ones, to all-team meetings, etc., to keep the company’s purpose front and center for your team, so they can draw meaning from how they impact the world. Make sure every employee knows why customers choose you above your competitors, so that reinforces their work.
Understand Your Employees Aspirations.
The second approach is to understand the aspirations of your employees. Discuss where they want to go with their careers, what they’re passionate about, what’s most important to them, and then help them move toward those goals. This could mean connecting them with a mentor who’s aligned with their chosen career path, investing in training and development that supports their goals alongside the goals of your company, or providing opportunities to work on projects or external engagements that align with their passions outside of their normal job responsibilities. Not only do you recognize the whole person but you invest in the whole person, and thus develop leaders in your own ranks.
Integrate Work and Life.
Another powerful approach is to create events that bridge the gap between work and people’s lives outside of work. I experienced this as an engineer at Pratt & Whitney,
my first job out of college. I moved from upstate New York to south Florida, where I didn’t know anyone within 1,000 miles. Soon after I arrived, the company hosted a Family Day, and invited us to bring our families onsite to see the products we made. My parents visited Florida for the first time and saw the F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle, two of the engines I’d worked on, which sat in the parking lot of our office building. It was one of the most impactful moments of my early career. I never imagined working on such amazing products and felt genuine pride in what I did. The cherry on top was that I was able to share that with my parents.
The bottom line is that as a leader you have to take an authentic interest in your employees as people, get to know them discover what they value, and understand what motivates them. That’s key to building a vibrant, successful company.
Eric Strafel is the author of “The Frontline CEO” and the founder of the consulting firm SUMMi7, which helps businesses grow profits and scale innovation with mission-driven purpose. Previously, he was the President and CEO of Aviall, a global provider of new aviation parts, supply chain management, and other services to the aerospace aftermarket, which was acquired by Boeing.