1. Provide clear strategic direction
The biggest obstacle to team empowerment is the failure of leaders to enable people to make their own decisions — most often, because they did not provide the strategic blueprint to guide those decisions. Even I can occasionally be guilty of this. When our company hits a point of change, I can be inclined to require the escalation of a decision up to me. Sometimes, that is necessary, but even after making that decision, I still need to remember to let go again and re-establish the blueprint so everyone else will be empowered to make that decision moving forward.At my company today, we talk about how to make decisions as close to the customer as possible so no one has to say, “I’ll have to talk to my manager about that first.” If we deviate from our strategic direction, we must step back and refresh the blueprint.
2. Nurture leadership and compensate risk-takers
Leaders and managers can play a big role in fostering the growth of individual contributors who want to develop their careers. In the early days of the organization, as we were figuring out our strategic direction, we kept our structure extremely flat. One individual contributor in the sales department showed interest in learning beyond his position, so I nurtured him into Head of Sales, then Head of Product Management, and now, Chief Operating Officer.
3. Empower small decisions and stay nimble
To make all these adjustments is like steering the rudder of a sailboat. The more nimbly we can adjust to the input of the wind and waves, the better our chances of getting to the other side of the lake faster than anyone else. But if we try to make huge changes, like a 90-degree turn, the sailboat will go completely off course. Most empowerment success cases are small, individual actions, so we only need to course-correct within a few degrees of our current position.