This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Carrots and Sticks Don't Work" by Paul Marciano. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What are the benefits of employee empowerment in the workplace? What can you do to empower your employees?
In Paul Marciano’s book Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, he discusses the many benefits of employee empowerment and autonomy. Marciano says that it’s only when employees can make independent decisions that they don’t detract from the team.
In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of employee empowerement and some actionable pointers for empowering your team.
The Importance of Employee Empowerment
Employee empowerment in the workplace should not be overlooked. Employees enjoy feeling autonomy, with the freedom to take risks and seek novel solutions. Autonomous employees are helpful because they’re more flexible in responding to novel situations and require less management overhead. They provide the change they want to see in the organization, which increases a feeling of ownership in the company’s success.
Autonomy requires trust from above, information sharing, sufficient resources, training, and decision-making responsibility.
Autonomous employees require information sharing to understand the goals of the organization. Only then can they independently make decisions that don’t detract from the team. (Shortform note: this echoes the concept of “Commander’s Intent,” where the high-level goals are defined specifically enough for the subordinate to know how his personal goals fit in, but vaguely enough to be agile and give the subordinate room to operate freely.) In contrast, keeping employees on a need-to-know basis makes them feel untrusted and makes them resort to gossip.
Employees feel empowered when they have the resources to get their job done. They can only feel empowered when roadblocks and cumbersome processes are eliminated, or when they have authority to change them.
Training is one of the highest leverage activities to invest in. In onboarding, training helps develop existing skills in the context of the new organization. Ongoing training promotes an expectation of growth mindset, trust in their ability for growth, and increases engagement with assignments at their limit of challenge. Functionally, growth leads to additional value from the employee, and creates an internal pipeline of candidates for promotion.
Overall, employees who feel well-resourced and trusted believe the organization wants them to succeed.
Actionables for Empowerment
- Regularly ask employees how you can help them be more successful. Resources? Training? Information?
- Delegate as much decision-making responsibility as possible to employees. (Shortform note: If you have a problem with this, ask yourself – what would happen if I let them make decisions up to a possible $100 of loss? $500? $1000?” After you try this out to cap your losses, you’ll become more comfortable with empowering your workers to make their own decisions.
- Improve training during onboarding. Ask current employees for feedback on how to improve training.
- Carve out employee time for continued training, and give them resources to achieve it. Allow them to choose the area of their training (within boundaries).
- Encourage employees to take educated risks.
- Ask employees for suggestions on changing restrictive policies and processes, so they don’t feel bottlenecked or held back.
- Ask a leader from another department to share info with your team. Allow team members to cross-train in another job, so they can expand their skills.
- Turn employees into coaches. Hold workshops with team members who can teach each other things.
- Give a range of new opportunities to employees, and allow them to choose.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Carrots and Sticks Don't Work summary:
- How to motivate your employees and teammates to do a better job
- How to know if you're a terrible manager
- Why the carrot and stick motivation model doesn't work anymore—and what to do instead