A culture of employee empowerment will define innovative, leading organizations in the years to come.
Every Ritz-Carlton employee is empowered to improve a guest’s experience. Employees can spend up to $2,000 of hotel funds to please a guest. This approach has a powerful impact on the Ritz-Carlton reputation with guests. As one Ritz-Carlton employee put it, “Sometimes the most delightful ‘wow’ moments happen in the blink of an eye. If employees are not empowered and need to cross layers of approval, these moments could be lost forever.” Our industry can learn from the Ritz and reap benefits by embracing an empowerment environment.
These are the elements of an empowerment culture:
- Empowerment improves the service provided to clients. Empower the person closest to the decision point. If a designer in the field is asked a question, the answer to that question may impact time, money, and quality. If that designer has the authority and the training to answer the question without consulting others, the project can keep moving. No wonder a Gallup study found “organizations that empower employees experience 50 percent higher customer loyalty.”
- Empowerment improves the quality of your work. People who feel responsible for their work put in extra effort. A sense of responsibility eliminates any “That’s not my job” or “She told me to send it out, so I sent it out” mentality. It spurs people to sound the alarm if they see trouble looming.
- Empowered employees are happier and collaborate. Employees want responsibility, although they might not call it empowerment. Recently I had a conversation with a young architect who said, “I want to be given an objective and then given the responsibility to figure it out. I’m young and don’t know everything, but I want to collaborate to create solutions. I don’t want to be told specifically what to do and how to do it.” She didn’t say the word “empowerment,” but that’s what she described. The desire to collaborate is evident in a culture of empowerment. People approach the edge of their comfort zones then seek input from others to validate their ideas or to discover improved solutions. Consequently, an empowered staff gets results from collaboration that may be superior to solutions produced by one high-functioning brain. In addition, relationships and trust are built within the organization creating a positive environment.
- Empowerment boosts innovation and speeds up the process. When someone is given a goal and guidelines, but not told how to accomplish the task, new ideas happen. People try new things, and this can lead to a better result. As an industry, we are hamstrung by the phases of schematic design, design development, and construction documents. In our firm, we were challenged to meet a client’s needs with a smaller team and more quickly. The team, empowered to do whatever necessary, replaced the three-phase approach with a streamlined process pulling necessary information from the client more efficiently. The result was a great design completed in a quarter of the anticipated time. In today’s market, things change quickly. All of us must react to market forces, current trends, and changing customer needs. In the middle of a recent project, our client changed their strategy. We went from designing a medical office building to designing an entirely new hospital for the same site. We needed to respond nimbly, without the restrictions of command-and-control management. Our trusted designer couldn’t sit around waiting for a principal to make decisions. We gave the designer the authority to adapt to the changing project environment, and he came through with an innovative solution good for the client and the speed of the project.
- Empowerment results in strategic thinking. A leader who spends all his or her time “doing” isn’t spending time strategizing. Leaders who use a command-and-control management style end up managing details, identifying what needs to be done and how it should be done, instructing employees on what to do and how to do it, then checking to make sure it was done in the identified way. On the other hand, leaders who provide goals, guidelines, and training to do the work, find themselves with time to spend on big-picture thinking.
An empowerment culture is a culture of innovation, collaboration, and success. It is not a culture that can be created overnight; it requires intention. It is the kind of culture that will allow for an enhanced client experience which may be the hallmark of the coming decade.
Kevin Token is chairman and CEO at BSA LifeStructures. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.