Empower Your Employees With Help From These 3 Simple Questions

Empowering your employees to make business-boosting decisions takes a lot of trust and a few guidelines, writes this small-business expert.
Author, Profit First
April 22, 2016

Whether you know it or not, you need empowered employees. Empowering employees isn’t just a feel-good, new-age concept. It’s not about showering employees with false compliments, and it's more than just building up self-esteem or fostering tomorrow’s business leaders. Empowering employees makes good business sense. Great employees help you grow your business. They may free you up to focus on tasks that suit your skill set and maximize your value to your company. Empowered employees may be the difference between a stagnant business that may have a hard time growing any bigger and the small business that’s nimble enough to scale up and expand.

But how do you get there? Many entrepreneurs suffer from a do-it-all mentality that’s actually counterproductive most of the time. Sure, you should understand how every part of your business works, but you don’t actually have to perform every single task.

One objection to giving employees the power to make decisions is that they’ll make mistakes: They’ll make the wrong decision, and the business might suffer. Guess what? They very well may make mistakes. But guess what else? You make mistakes too. We’re all fallible, and if your criterion for decision-making power is perfection, you’re destined to be disappointed.

But you do need to make sure the employees you trust to make decisions for your company are well-trained and understand your goals for the business. When I’m moving a staff member into a decision-making role, I give them a checklist—three steps they must take while making a decision. It’s simple, clear and effective. Take a look and see if it may help as you start empowering your employees to make decisions for your business.

1. Does this decision make the company more profitable?

At the beginning, middle and end of every day, you’re in business to make money. While you can and should have goals in addition to profit, your employees can’t ever lose sight of their primary responsibility—to safeguard the company’s fiscal interests. If a decision doesn’t enhance profitability, then the employee may need to abandon it or rework it until it does. 

... By putting the authority in context and equipping your employees with the tools to make good decisions, you're taking steps to possibly set yourself and your company up to thrive, grow and succeed.

2. Does this decision conform to our company culture?

Your uniqueness is what sets you apart from all your competitors. If a decision requires a fundamental shift in thinking that doesn’t square with your company’s dynamics or values, then it’s not a good idea. If your employee can develop a plan that brings the decision in line with your company culture, then it’s worth proceeding. If not, you may want to consider abandoning the idea in order to keep your core values.

3. Does this decision benefit our best customers?

Even if a decision makes financial sense, and even if a decision suits your unique culture, if there’s no benefit to customers—or worse yet, if there’s a decline in customer satisfaction—then it may be all for naught. Customers are the core of your business. They keep the lights on and they pay your staff. If a decision doesn’t result in a better customer experience, then it may not be a good one.

Making decisions can be hard. We want to be right and we want to serve the company’s interests. But unless you give your employees a method for making sound decisions, they’re not going to have a roadmap. They may not have a method for evaluating choices and for making sure they’re worthy of the trust you’ve placed in them.

Are your employees going to screw up from time to time? Of course! When it happens, consider doing a post-mortem. Discuss not just the final decision and its repercussions, but consider taking the time to break down the process they used to arrive at their decision. Making the moment a teachable one may not only keep an otherwise great employee from becoming discouraged, but it may also pay dividends in the future.

The onus for ensuring your staff is properly trained is on you. You can’t just distribute decision-making authority willy-nilly and expect anything other than disaster. But by putting the authority in context and equipping your employees with the tools to make good decisions, you're taking steps to possibly set yourself and your company up to thrive, grow and succeed. You may start to see a staff that’s proud to be trusted and feels both ownership and pride—a winning combination.

Read more articles on motivating employees.

Photo: iStock
Author, Profit First