Employee empowerment is more than a buzzword—it’s the key to creating a happy and productive team. Learn why empowerment is essential, plus try five concrete strategies to give your team the support, agency, and confidence they need to thrive at work.
Think of the last time you accomplished something on your own. Maybe you learned how to fix your computer, do your taxes, or play an instrument. You may have run into roadblocks along the way, but you had the tools you needed to figure things out. It felt good, right?
That’s what employee empowerment is all about. When workers are empowered, they have the tools and trust to make big decisions and figure things out on their own. And each time they overcome a hurdle, your team members get more experience, more confidence, and more power to make a positive impact.
Employee empowerment is the practice of supporting team members and giving them space to become their best selves at work. Leaders who empower their employees focus on support instead of micromanaging. They provide the trust and tools workers need to overcome challenges, plus the autonomy employees need to make their own decisions. As a result, empowered workers can grow their skills, take ownership of their work, and gain the confidence they need to make an impact.
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Employee empowerment helps each team member reach their full potential at work—which helps your team (and company) thrive. Here’s how you can empower your team:
Give employees the support they need to handle challenges: Employee empowerment focuses on giving workers the trust, tools, and information they need to make hard decisions. With your support and the right resources, your team can learn by doing without feeling like they’ve been thrown into the deep end. Over time, this helps employees build experience and confidence. They get better at their jobs, and you can trust them with increasingly difficult projects.
Boost employee engagement: Empowered employees are much more likely to be engaged at work. This is backed by data—studies show that empowered employees rank in the 79th percentile of employee engagement, while disempowered employees rank in the 24th percentile. And these numbers make sense on an intuitive level, too. It’s hard to feel engaged when you don’t have control over your work. By empowering employees, you give them more control and the autonomy to make a real impact.
Build a strong company culture: Your organization’s culture is a reflection of your values. By placing a high value on empowerment, you encourage employees to take responsibility and create work they’re proud of. This type of culture is much stronger than one in which workers feel powerless to make any change. Plus, a positive company culture helps drive employee satisfaction and well-being—meaning higher employee retention, less employee turnover, and better job performance.
Produce high-quality work: Employee empowerment gives your all-star employees the tools and resources they need to get their best work done. It allows them to take full ownership of projects and responsibilities, so they have fewer blockers and are more invested in producing high-quality results.
Make better decisions, faster: Empowered employees have the agency, context, and clarity they need to make good decisions fast. They know which decisions they can make and which ones should still be made by leadership—so they can act quickly when something falls within their purview. When it does, workers don’t have to wait for higher-ups who are unfamiliar with the problem at hand. Instead, the decision-making power lies with employees who have a detailed, on-the-ground perspective.
Hire (and keep) top-shelf talent: An empowered work environment appeals to potential candidates. That’s because the best candidates get excited about the opportunity to take ownership and directly influence company outcomes. Talented people want to bring their full capabilities to the table, and a culture of empowerment lets them do that. That means your talented employees will have higher job satisfaction and stick around longer—all thanks to employee empowerment.
So employee empowerment is essential, but where do you start? Below, we’ve laid out five concrete ways to boost empowerment on your team.
At its heart, employee empowerment boils down to one thing—giving team members the resources and authority they need to make their own decisions. That means in order for empowerment to work, you need to delegate and distribute responsibility among your team. At the same time, it’s also critical that you ensure workers have the context they need to make the right decisions.
When you distribute responsibility, decisions don’t all rest on your shoulders. Instead, you can empower your employees to take full ownership of their projects. You can still give feedback, but ultimately it’s their call.
At Asana, we empower employees by creating Areas of Responsibility (AoRs). For any given area of the company (like internal communications, human resources, or marketing operations), there’s one AoR-holder. They still listen to feedback from stakeholders, but it’s ultimately their call if opinions are split or there isn’t a clear answer. The key to implementing AoRs is to be clear about what each team member is (and is not) responsible for. That way, you always know who has decision-making power in a given situation.
For example, imagine you lead a three-person email marketing team. Each employee’s role is similar—they write, stage, and deliver content for email newsletters. But beyond that base role, each person is also responsible for a different area of work:
Email marketing platform: Work with the engineering team to fix bugs and improve features.
Testing: Work with the analytics team to test the performance of different newsletter features.
Content partnerships: Work with the content team to repurpose existing content for the newsletter.
Each employee has ownership and decision-making power in their specific area. As a result, they’re trusted to act autonomously and empowered to drive real change.
Making decisions can be scary. That means employee empowerment isn’t just about giving your team more decision-making power—you also need to provide the support and resources they need to feel confident in their choices.
Just because someone is responsible for a decision doesn’t mean they’re on their own. Here’s how to support your team and help team members make the best possible choices:
Clarify different types of decisions. Some decisions require lots of planning, while others can be made more quickly. According to Jeff Bezos, you can make this distinction clear by dividing decisions into two categories: type one and type two. Type one decisions are hard to reverse and have high impact, like hiring a new team member or opening a new office. Type two decisions are easy to reverse and have a relatively low impact, like choosing a day of the week for your team meeting. By distinguishing between these two decision types, you can move faster and avoid spending too much time on lower-impact choices.
Use a decision-making framework. A decision framework outlines each stage of the decision-making process and helps you identify who is responsible for each step. One option is the RAPID® framework, which identifies five key roles for major decisions: Recommend, Agree, Perform, Input, and Decide. Some companies may use one universal framework for all of their big choices. If yours doesn’t, consider using a standardized decision-making process across your team. That way, you can ensure that everyone follows the same steps and makes high-quality choices.
Create RACI charts. A RACI chart outlines who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed for a given project. It clarifies who is responsible for making and approving decisions, who should be consulted before implementing a decision, and who should be informed of the final result. By encouraging your team members to create RACI charts for each new project, you can empower them to navigate stakeholder relationships and make sure the right people are looped into key decisions.
Be a sounding board. As a manager, you’re in the best position to coach and guide your team as they approach difficult choices. Make time during 1:1 meetings for team members to talk through problems and potential solutions. Provide guidance when you can, but remember that the final decision is up to them.
Set expectations. Decisions can be intimidating, especially when they have far-reaching consequences. To prevent decision-paralysis, clarify that good decisions are more about the process than the outcome. You can’t predict the future, but you can follow a solid decision-making process and increase your chances of success. Setting expectations helps employees take action, even if it means they might fail.
In order to prioritize work and make good decisions, you have to know what’s important. That’s what goals are for—they’re a north star to guide employees as they navigate choices like what to work on first, when to push back on stakeholder requests, and whether a new project is worth pursuing.
When employees understand how their daily work ladders up into business goals, they know what’s important to the business and what they should focus on. This clarity gives team members greater autonomy to make their own decisions, while ensuring they stay aligned with company objectives.
One way to connect daily work to organizational goals is with objectives and key results (OKRs)—a methodology that pairs objectives with the metrics you’ll use to track progress. At Asana, the executive team sets business objectives, but individual teams decide on the key results they want to aim for. Then, each team member sets their own personal key results that ladder up into broader team KRs.Read: How to set and track stretch goals to inspire your team
The word democracy means “run by the people.” In a similar vein, democratic leadership is a management style that encourages team members to participate in the decision-making process. As a manager, that means you don’t make choices on your own and communicate them to your team. Instead, you ask for your team’s input and use that to inform your decisions.
This approach can be slower than if you just made decisions yourself, but it’s a data-backed way to boost employee engagement and empowerment. An employee who feels their voice is heard is 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. And one of the best ways to help employees feel heard is by asking for their ideas, opinions, and advice.Read: 11 common leadership styles (plus how to find your own)
Giving and receiving feedback can be an uncomfortable process, but it’s essential to help your employees feel empowered at work. That’s because a big part of empowerment is trust—you need to trust that your employees can act on their own, and your employees need to trust that you’ll speak up if they could do something better.
Nobody wants to do a bad job. Just like you’d want your friend to tell you if you have salad in your teeth, people want to know when they miss the mark at work. Giving honest feedback shows your team that they can trust you to speak up and provide the learning opportunities they need. And when you receive employee feedback and act on it, you demonstrate that their perspective matters. This doesn’t only help build rapport and trust—it also encourages your team to speak up and advocate for what they need.
The bottom line is that employee empowerment is all about trust and clarity. You need to trust team members to act autonomously and make their own decisions, while also ensuring that they have the know-how and resources they need to be successful.
The right project management software can help level up your employee empowerment. With a tool like Asana, your team can easily form a clear picture of how projects are progressing, who’s responsible for what, and what decisions are being made. You can empower your team members to act autonomously and stay connected to what’s going on.Empower your team with Asana