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5 Steps for Empowering Employees

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Empowering Employees

As we proceed on our quest for more effective leadership, I want to share a tool that will help you in the area of employee empowerment. From a management perspective, the goal of empowering employees is to give them greater autonomy in the process of identifying problems and implementing solutions, which will lead to improved productivity.

So how do we move our people to higher levels of empowerment? Let me tell you a story first: One day, a new general manager was reviewing his open repair order list and he noted that there were 10 repair orders that were in “preorder parts” status that had been in that status for well over four months. Preorders at this shop occur when a customer comes in for an estimate and authorizes the shop to order parts for the job prior to dropping off the vehicle for repairs. The customer pays for the parts up front with the expectation that when the parts come in, the shop will schedule the customer to bring the car in. The manager did some digging into each repair order and found that several attempts had been made to contact the customer to schedule the repairs. Unfortunately, customers were either unresponsive or missed one or more appointments for drop-off.

Our diligent manager decided on a solution to clear up space in his parts department and possibly motivate the customers to come in for the repairs. He walked back to the parts area and directed the parts manager to ship the parts to the customers’ homes. A few days later, the parts manager came in to the GM’s office and nonchalantly said, “Boss, I need your credit card. The shipping company is here to pick up those preorder parts and the bill is $631.”  

Of course the GM immediately realized that $631 was way too much to spend for shipping but he reluctantly proffered the card. When he thought about the situation, he realized that he should have considered the “The Five Levels of Empowerment” tool before he directed his parts manager to take care of the pre-orders situation. If he had assessed where the parts manager was on the hierarchy of this tool prior to giving orders the outcome would definitely have been different. Here are the five levels:


Level 1

The employee is tasked with researching an assigned activity and reports the results and findings. The supervisor decides what action will be taken. We use this basic level of empowerment to determine how the employee thinks, analyzes and communicates. This level is used with new employees and with existing employees that have not undertaken a new task. If there are deficiencies in their thought process, you will be able to coach them.


Level 2

The employee researches an assigned activity including possible options. The employee reports back and suggests a course of action, but the supervisor decides what action will be taken. Here, we are testing the mental agility of the employee to determine if they can see the bigger picture of the task and can ferret out solid options.


Level 3

The employee researches an assigned activity and reports what he intends to do, but he cannot proceed without the supervisors’ approval. A subtle shift up the ladder of empowerment now occurs. The employee now assumes some responsibility for his or her choices when her or she selects the course of action he or she intends to implement. It is still crucial that a one-on-one conversation between the employee and the supervisor occurs so that expectations are clear.


Level 4

The employee researches an assigned activity and implements a course of action. The employee later reports what he did to the supervisor. This is a huge jump in trust and empowerment. The employee is working independently of the supervisor which frees up the supervisors’ time to work on other tasks. This level of empowerment can only be obtained when the employee has a proven track record of successful decision making. Reporting afterword still gives the supervisor an opportunity to coach and develop the employee if there are any subtleties or nuances that could lead to further improvement.


Level 5

The employee researches an assigned activity and implements a course of action. No communication to the supervisor occurs. This level of empowerment is granted only after long stretches of testing, coaching and trust building. There is a significant shift in power from the supervisor to the employee and both now share responsibility for results.


If you hone your coaching skills and follow the guidelines of the “The Five Levels of Empowerment” you’ll find that, over time, a flow of leadership talent will be created within your organization. The employees that move up the levels of empowerment will have the skills to deploy this with their future subordinates.

In closing, here is something for you to think about: In our story of the pre-ordered parts, what level of empowerment do you think the parts manager should have been granted?

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