Employees are essential to businesses, but too many managers don't use employees to their full potential. Many managers have an autocratic management style where they make decisions and employees are expected to follow them. However, this is not always the best way to manage a company, and empowering employees to make their opinions known can be very useful.
It's tempting to hold Google or Apple up as examples of empowering employees to challenge and define the status quo, and they do this very well. Employees are encouraged to give opinions wherever possible. These companies, however, have very flat organizational structures that don't rely overly much on hierarchies.
For companies that have more rigid organization structures, empowering employees to offer opinions can be more disruptive, but the right manager should be able to listen to opinions and make a choice depending on the validity of the opinion. This will require a certain amount of explaining, however, and tact. In addition, you'll need to set clear boundaries — once you've decided on a course of action, it can be disruptive to have employees constantly questioning the decision. The idea is to encourage a free and fair discourse rather than one person making the decision and assuming all the risk.
Empowering employees essentially encourages them to think in ways that will benefit the business. This can range from encouraging them to offer opinions on potential new hires to empowering employees to act on a company's behalf when there's an issue, rather than going through a manager or a supervisor. The latter, naturally, requires some limits so that it's not abused.
Employee opinions can be delivered on a one-to-one basis in a meeting or as part of an overall brainstorming session. While an open-door policy is a cliché, if you're accessible as a manager, you immediately make it possible to utilize the wealth of experience that your employees offer. Those who have been in other industries or have experience in other establishments can offer alternative perspectives, whereas those who have been in the business can remember similar initiatives that worked or didn't work.
Direct feedback from employees can be uncomfortable when it's on your management style, but asking their opinions can be vital. Utilizing 360-degree feedback essentially means understanding what people actually think of you from below and above and then acting on it. While nobody likes to hear about bad news, it's often something you can learn from.
Empowering employees doesn't have to be disruptive. Asking employee opinions means that you get to hear a wide variety of ideas that can add value to your business or proposition. In addition, it can get to the core of issues within the business or even with your management style.
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