Living Life: Empowering Employees - BodyShop Business

Living Life: Empowering Employees

Tired of working 80-hour weeks? Ready to start enjoying life rather than watching it pass you by? Empower your employees, and you can stop putting off until retirement what you could be doing today.

Imagine there’s a bank that credits your account each morning with $86,400, carries over no balance from day to day, allows you to keep no cash balance and every evening cancels whatever part of the amount you failed to use during the day.

What would you do?

Draw out every cent, of course! You’d have to be crazy not to take advantage of an offer like that.

Well, believe it or not, everyone has such a bank. (I know, I know … now I’m the crazy one.)

Every morning, the bank of time credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off, as lost, all that you’ve failed to invest in good purposes. It carries over no balance, and it allows no overdraft. Each day, it opens a new account for you. Each night, it burns the records of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours — there’s no going back, there’s no drawing against tomorrow. You must live in the present on today’s deposits.

"Live in the present? On today’s deposits? Get real," you say. "I’m banking on the future — a time when I can finally hand my business over to someone else and spend my retirement doing the things I’ve always wanted to do."

Hand your business over to someone else? Finally do the things you’ve always wanted to do? Isn’t one of the reasons you started your own business because you didn’t want to work for the rest of your life, waiting until retirement to do the things you always dreamed about?

So what happened?

What happened to the two-week Canadian fishing trip you planned to take every summer? What happened to the weekend adventures you were going to try — like scuba diving or hang gliding? What happened to the skiing trip your wife started planning?

Let me guess. Instead of spending time away from your shop, enjoying self-employment, you spend the early mornings catching up on past work, you spend lunch doing things for today and you spend late evenings trying to get ahead. I bet you haven’t taken a vacation in years. I bet that, despite the best entrepreneurial intentions, you’re tied to the very business you created to free yourself from the drudgery of working your whole life.

It’s been said that being in your own business is working 80 hours a week so you can avoid working 40 hours a week for someone else. (A sigh of despair is OK at this point.)

But it doesn’t have to be that way for you.

How do you quit working 80 hours a week? How do you enjoy the elusive freedom of self-employment you’re yearning for? By empowering your employees.

What Is Empowerment?
Empowerment isn’t giving people power, says Ken Blanchard, John P. Carlos and Alan Randolph — authors of the national best seller "Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute." People already have power to do their jobs magnificently — in their wealth of knowledge and motivation. Empowerment is letting this power out.

At the core of empowerment is a sense of ownership. With a sense of ownership comes a sense of responsibility, which, in turn, creates a greater sense of purpose and involvement in employees’ jobs. Empowered employees bring their best ideas and initiatives to the workplace — your shop — with a sense of excitement and pride. They act responsibly whether you’re in the front office checking your messages or at the airport checking your luggage.

"Sounds great," you say. "I’ll make travel reservations."

Not so fast. Empowering your employees is a great idea that takes time to implement.

According to the book’s authors, the first step is to change your mind set. Your role, as management, must move from "command and control" to "responsibility oriented and supportive." This is a major shift in thinking, but the most critical place the shift must occur is in you. Too many business owners and top-level managers still think their employees leave for work every morning contriving ways to get through the day doing as little as possible.

With those notions put to rest, empowerment can work in your shop, but there’s a great deal of learning and re-learning that must be done before you reach the "Land of Empowerment." It’s a journey, and you and your employees will all have doubts along the way. That shouldn’t be surprising — you’re asking them to buy into something on faith. Not only have they had no experience with being empowered but, in many cases, they’ve been un-empowered. They don’t know how the process is going to work, and they have no sense of what the authors call WIIFM — "What’s in it for me?"

Creating an empowered, employee-driven workplace will take time and dedication — no ifs, ands or buts about it. But when you reach the Land of Empowerment, your employees will be more effective and more efficient than ever before. They’ll feel a sense of ownership, and you’ll feel a sense of freedom knowing you can leave the shop in good hands — whether it’s for lunch or kayaking lessons.

Unleash the Power
The authors of "Empowerment Takes More Than a Minute" pinpoint three keys to empowerment that are part of a process for releasing the potential in everyone. All three keys should be viewed as operating in dynamic interaction with each other. It takes all of them, with a constant shift in focus, to empower your employees.

1. Share information with everyone. This may seem like a scary proposition at first, but the reason behind it is the cornerstone of successful empowerment. Withholding information carries all kinds of negative messages. It makes employees think, "I’m not in the know. They don’t trust me. They think I’d do bad things with the information if I knew it."

Sharing information about the business — profits, budgets, market share, productivity, etc. – helps dissolve the perceived division between superior and subordinate.

Trust is crucial to an empowered organization, and sharing information — all information — is the cornerstone for establishing trust. It’s also the basis for action — people without information can’t act responsibly, but people with information are compelled to act responsibly.

2. Create autonomy through boundaries. With a lack of guidelines, people will revert to their old, un-empowered habits before your suitcase is packed. Boundaries channel energy in a certain direction, like the banks of a river. Without banks, the river’s direction and momentum would be gone.

Boundary areas that create autonomy include:

• Purpose — What business are you in?

• Values — What are your operational guidelines?

• Image — What’s your picture of the future?

• Goals — What, when, where and how do you do what you want to do?

• Roles – Who does what?

• Organizational Structure and Systems — How do you support what you want to do?

Setting these boundaries can’t be done at once. They must be defined as you need them. A good place to start is to gather input from everyone to create a vision — a picture of the future or image that clarifies the purpose of your organization and highlights the guiding values.

Your vision will come alive when everyone sees where his or her contribution makes a difference. Each person in your shop should translate the vision into roles and goals that have meaning for them.

You must maintain some rules and structure so people are comfortable during the change over, but these aren’t the old rules and structures of the hierarchy. These new boundaries must demonstrate the values that support your empowerment effort and will help everyone act with responsibility and autonomy.

3. Replace the hierarchy with self-directed teams. The traditional business hierarchy generates mostly one-way communication, with decisions being handed down the line from the top. Even if your shop is one of those utilizing the team concept, those teams probably make recommendations that are then decided upon by management.

But a team of empowered employees is far more powerful than a disconnected group of individuals. To harness that power, get teams to do much of what the management hierarchy has done in the past.

To do this, employees must learn to work in self-directed teams and make and implement their own decisions. A self-directed team is a group of employees with responsibility for an entire process or product. They plan, perform and manage the work from start to finish. There may be a manager on the team, but if it’s a high-performing team, you’d never be able to identify that person. Everyone shares equally in the responsibilities.

To get these teams going, guidelines and structure are essential. The idea isn’t to leave a self-directed team alone to fend for itself, but to use a directive style of leadership to help develop the skills necessary to function as a team. Rather than telling people how to do their jobs, management should focus on telling them how to manage their jobs.

Your Final Destination
Transforming your shop into an employee-driven workplace won’t be easy. In the early stages, gains will be small, but it’s important to count them as successes nonetheless. People will get discouraged and confused about what to do next. Why shouldn’t they? They’ve never done this before. But as difficult as the journey may seem, don’t give up. The most significant and long-lasting payoffs — your employees’ sense of ownership, responsibility and pride — will come. It just takes time.

Remember, too, that nothing in the empowerment process is static. The boundaries you set will continue to evolve, and employees will suggest new roles and improvements. In some cases, they’ll use their teams more effectively than you expected. Empowerment means you have the freedom to act, but it also means you’re accountable for results. Armed with the right information and attitude, you’re employees will come through with flying colors.

When they do, celebrate their accomplishments. Let everyone in the shop know you’re proud of their hard work and confident in their abilities. And to prove it, take the day off. You heard me, take the day off. In fact, take several. Start planning your next vacation — how about a week in Europe, a cruise to Alaska or a sojourn to the Big Apple? Start enjoying the life you intended for you and your family when you became a small-business owner. The shop will survive without you — just remember to drop a postcard in the mail now and then.

Writer Melissa McGee is managing editor of BodyShop Business.

It’s OK to Make Misteaks
If you’re a stickler for details or a perfectionist at heart, think twice before saying anything the next time an employee makes a mistake.

Blaming someone for a mistake kills the spirit of innovation. And if your employees are too busy protecting themselves, they won’t have time to be innovative. Permission to take risks, make mistakes and challenge the way things have always been done allows people to learn and to use their talents to the fullest. Misteaks, I mean mistakes, should be seen as opportunities for employees to improve, not times to find fault.

Growing Pains
In creating and developing teams in your new employee-driven workplace, remember that groups, like individuals, go through predictable stages of development. According to Blanchard, Carlos and Randolph, teams need a different kind of leadership at each stage.

When a group first forms, members are typically enthusiastic but don’t know how they’re going to operate or who will play what role. This is the orientation stage. During this stage, the team needs strong, clear leadership.

When team members begin to realize that working as a team is more difficult than expected, the team enters the second stage of development, the dissatisfaction stage. At this point, the team needs continued strong, clear leadership and support — someone to listen to concerns and cheerlead for progress. You may want to establish a team coordinator at this stage.

The third stage of development, resolution, comes when team members learn to work together. If a team coordinator was established earlier, his role now is to support and facilitate the team.

As the final production stage of development is reached, the team coordinator role becomes less critical. A self-directed team will direct and support individual efforts on its own.

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