We all say we want empowered employees, but what do we mean by that—and how does empowerment affect our companies? Does empowerment mean allowing everyone to do what they think is best? Does it mean they should act within certain guidelines? Does it mean they should always act independently?
The Power of Working Together
How to lead and empower is an issue that managers face every day. A company head once told me this: “Leadership is like conducting an orchestra. Everyone contributes, but once the conductor raises the baton you must follow his lead. Leadership has assumed its position.”
This orchestra example demonstrates the difficulty of empowerment and leadership working together effectively. We want employees to be empowered to play their part and to do it well. We also want them to recognize that they’re not in it alone, that the part they play affects everyone else, and ultimately the customer experience.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and that’s why we need people to understand that by working together they can make things better for customers, and the company.
The Leadership Role
If you ask a manager what they want, they’ll tell you they want staff to do what’s right for the customer, follow rules when that’s required, and ask for help when it’s needed. None of this is easy. To accomplish this, they also need to use their judgment when it’s appropriate.
That’s where the problem often lies. When it comes to using judgement, many managers complain that their staff doesn’t connect the dots. They do one job and don’t relate it to the next task. It’s even more difficult when a situation arises that they can’t solve, and they don’t ask for help.
As leaders, we need to help employees connect the dots and see how their part fits in the bigger picture. It’s our job to teach people to do the right thing in different situations. We need to be supportive when people make mistakes so they aren’t afraid to bring a problem to our attention before it becomes a customer service disaster. Fortunately, customer service is not brain surgery. Mistakes won’t kill someone. Failing to get it right, however, will negatively affect your NPS (Net Promoter Score) and that can be fatal for the company.
As managers, we must first build and then lead the orchestra. We need to reinforce that by working together, we can build a better company. It’s not easy, but then management never is.