The more you empower your employees, the more they will grow and thrive
Here are ten specific ways to do this:
Give employees generous boundaries. Contrary to conventional wisdom, boundaries don't restrict team members; they empower them. Define the boundaries within which an employee can make his or her own decisions. In doing so, you give them freedom to act.
For example, if you allow a customer service rep to spend up to 20% of a customer's annual fees on keeping that customer happy, you enable the rep to solve a problem without consulting a manager (and slowing down the service provided).
Without clear boundaries, employees lack a specific area in which they are empowered to act; this is one of the best ways to discourage initiative.
Listen intently. Too many managers try to get employees to say what they want to hear. "Tell me we will hit our sales target." This is nonsense. It is far wiser to listen carefully for the truth... and then—when necessary—change your behavior in response to that truth.
In 2006, as Alan Mulally arrived as the new Ford CEO and the company was facing a $17 billion loss, he transformed the old culture that warned executives against admitting their business was facing a problem. “Alan turned that around, and said 'No, that's a sign of strength,’” recalled Mark Fields, Mulally's successor as CEO.
Believe in your employees. The best managers get outstanding performance from ordinary human beings. If you wait for a team of superstars, you will be waiting forever. Discover what each person does best. Find better ways for people to support each other. Bring people together to support and encourage each other. Then believe 100% in these partnerships and collaborations.
Forgive mistakes. If your team isn't making mistakes, then you aren't reaching high enough. But if you punish mistakes, you will encourage overly-conservative behavior. Establish clear differences between acceptable mistakes versus mission-critical offenses. Example: It is OK to test a new advertising method and discover it does not work; it is never OK to engage in false or deceptive advertising.
Provide growth paths. Everything in life -- including people -- changes. If you don't give people room to grow, you will force them to either leave your business or grow stagnant. Even if it is inconvenient for you or your business, you must provide robust ways for your employees to grow.
Praise effort. Don't focus on talent; focus on effort. Over the long run, effort is far more important than talent. Also, by praising effort you will encourage people to learn and grow, rather than to simply stay focused on the one or two things that come easy to them.
Ask powerful questions. Instead of making rash demands or constantly telling employees how to do something, try talking less and observing more. Then, when you start to actually understand what's happening, express your observation in the form of a powerful question. Remember this question, and wait as long as necessary for a good answer.
Example: "How could we sell a new product that is 10 times cheaper than our competitor's product?" At Crest, this thinking resulted in a spinning toothbrush that stole market share from expensive electric toothbrushes.
Earn trust. It's easy to be there for an employee in good times, but will you be there in bad times? Too many companies annihilate their employees in tough times. Layoffs are not OK. Cutting the bottom 10% of your workforce each year is a barbaric practice.
Never hire a person unless you are willing to support that person through thick and thin. In earning trust, you also foster remarkable loyalty and tenacity in your employees.
Give employees time. You can't always give each employee as much money as they would like, but you generally can give them time. This includes time to learn, time to experiment, and time to manage their personal affairs. Time produces better results.
Set your own ego aside. Too many bosses want to be the smartest person in the room, but if this is always true you have utterly failed as a leader and manager. Avoid pontification and bluster. Talk less and listen more.
Celebrate your team members, not yourself.
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