I recently witnessed a commanding presentation on the concept of
empowerment. While I practice empowerment in my own business, the
presentation reminded me of its importance in all businesses.
Empowerment is not about giving power to people; it is about
releasing the knowledge, experience and motivation they already
have. For those companies that dare to try, the benefits can be
significant. By releasing their employees’ full potential and
instilling a responsibility-
oriented environment, business managers will be able to better
compete in today’s “do more with less” business environment.
For small businesses like the majority of kitchen and bath
dealers it’s more important than ever to know how to empower
employees. These firms can get the edge on “big boxes,” which
aren’t able to empower employees because of their size and the fear
of losing control. They have too many people and too much turnover
to instill an empowered work culture. The “mom and pop” business,
with fewer, longer-term employees, can. The big hurdle here is
getting “mom and pop” to let go.
The average kitchen and
bath dealer has between four and eight employees. Usually, it’s the
owner who is the highest producing salesperson and the busiest
designer, as well as the one who meets with all of the factory
reps, makes all of the showroom display decisions and acts as the
traffic cop and fireman. The employees are told what to do and when
to do it. They can’t make decisions on their own, but instead have
to check everything with “the boss.” This is control management.
While it works to a degree it doesn’t maximize the talents and
motivation of the employees.
In an empowered organization, employees bring their best ideas
and initiatives to the workplace with a sense of excitement,
ownership and pride. In addition, the empowered employee will act
with responsibility and will put the best interests of the
To create an empowered workplace, management’s role in running
the business must change from a command-and-control mindset to a
responsibility-oriented and supportive environment in which all
employees have the opportunity to do their best.
I’ll be the first to admit that
empowerment can be a difficult concept to appreciate fully and even
more difficult to implement. I like being in control. Heck, I was
an officer in the Army, and regimentation and control is what I was
taught. But, I also learned that, as my business grew and I wanted
to have a life away from the business, I had to let my employees be
creative, use their initiative and spread their wings yes, even
make some decisions without checking with me. It takes guts on the
part of the boss, but the results are astounding.
By giving people more information, greater autonomy and more
responsibility, a company will be able to utilize the collective
power of its people to achieve bigger and more profitable sales,
better service, greater productivity and fewer mistakes.
Today’s employees are more free-spirited and entrepreneurial. In
order to harness all of their “horsepower,” we have to let them
run. Kitchen and bath customers want their contacts the front line
employees to be able to make decisions, solve problems and take
action right on the spot.
To begin, empowerment has to start at the top. If it doesn’t, it
won’t go anywhere. So, all of you bosses out there take a step back
and analyze how you’re running your business. You’ve probably
already figured out that you can’t get it all done by yourself, so
cut loose and encourage your employees to utilize the knowledge and
motivation that they have stored up.
There are several steps that have to be taken to instill a sense
1. First, you have to share accurate information with everyone.
This means sharing how the business is doing in terms of sales,
profitability, productivity and yes, even the bottom line. I meet
with my employees at least twice a year and do a “State of the
Company” report. I don’t divulge privileged information, but I do
report whether sales are up or down a certain percentage, as well
as whether the margin has climbed or slipped. I talk expenses and
future plans. By sharing this information, I am empowering my
employees to act as entrepreneurs within the company. People with
accurate information will feel compelled to act responsibly.
2. Next, you have to create autonomy through boundaries. The
owner/manager builds and clarifies the long- and short-term goals
(the “big picture”), with input from everyone. He or she then
translates the vision in roles and goals (little pictures). This is
followed by defining values and rules (the boundaries) that
underline the desired actions. When values are clear,
decision-making is easier. Finally, “the boss” develops structures
and procedures that empower people. This all takes time. It takes
working together and getting used to.
3. The third step is replacing dictatorial thinking with
self-managed teams. I love this part of running my business.
Instead of sitting in my office all alone making every decision, we
have weekly “staff meetings.” Every meeting has an agenda and a
facilitator. New ideas, new products, new direction everything is
discussed with the team. Empowered teams can do more than empowered
individuals. People don’t start out knowing how to work in
self-managed teams you have to show them. Teams with information
and skills can replace the old dictatorial thinking.
While empowerment means employees will have the freedom to act,
it also means they will have to be accountable for the results.
Some results to look for when you start to practice empowerment and
self-managed teams include: increased job satisfaction; an attitude
change from “have to” to “want to”; greater employee commitment;
better communication between employees and management; more
efficient decision-making processes; improved quality; increased
productivity; reduced operating costs; a more profitable
organization; a happier organization, and getting a life back for
Empowerment is one more tool you can use to be the very best
kitchen and bath dealer (or manufacturer representative, or
manufacturer, or distributor) in this great industry. Good