How to Empower Your Team From Top to Bottom

Empowering your team


With more than two decades of experience leading teams and building workplace culture, I’ve seen firsthand how good communication with your employees can be a source of empowerment. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen how a lack of empathy and of two-way dialogue with company executives can leave teams feeling unimportant and unproductive. 


When employees believe that company executives aren’t listening to them, the whole organization can suffer. In the words of author Andy Stanley, “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” If you don’t empower your employees, you put more than just your company culture in jeopardy — you also risk hindering your company’s success. Key talent will become demotivated and may leave for more empowering professional opportunities, taking their great ideas with them. 


Employee empowerment needs to come from the top, with executives at your company encouraging candid conversations and feedback from your teams. Here’s how you can build trust, boost empowerment from top to bottom, and create a workplace where everyone can thrive together.  


What Disempowering Employees Looks Like


Anyone who has ever had a boss who disempowered them might understand why thousands of Google employees from around the world staged a walkout last October.


Google has been accused of treating women unfairly for years, and this was cemented by recent reports of sexual harassment cases. 


Employees complained about the sexual harassment they were experiencing at work and yet the company executives often chose to do little about it — especially when it involved fellow executives. Similar situations have taken place at Ernst & Young, an organization that prides itself on its drive toward inclusivity. Employees who have reported harassment have been shut down, ignored, and even pushed out of the company, leaving them totally disempowered.


You might think the Google walkout would encourage company executives to start listening to their employees, but the protest has been only partially successful. While the tech company has now made arbitration optional for individual cases of harassment, protesters say little else has changed to make a significant difference to the working environment.


Your company’s executives may think they have nothing in common with these business giants, but if they have ever told employees to identify solutions rather than problems, or responded to an employee without addressing their concerns, they may have more in common than they realize. 


Too often, executives are less self-aware and less open to feedback than they think they are. They may believe they provide the opportunity for employees to ask questions, that they know what their team is thinking, or that they share company goals and direction. Much of the time, this isn’t the case — which is why it’s important to understand how to really empower your employees.


Empowering Your Employees


If you want your employees to feel empowered at work, you need to hear them out and give them opportunities to share their ideas. Executives can make sure they’re listening by instituting formal programs to solicit employee feedback and by cultivating their listening skills. 


Develop Formal Programs


I always try to make employee engagement a priority, and at RelationEdge, we have had great success with several programs that are designed to encourage candid feedback from employees. These include:


  • Anonymous Questions: Before monthly all-hands meetings, employees can complete a form to anonymously ask questions that will be answered during the meeting.


  • Roundtables: Diverse groups of employees who are not in management come together and speak their minds about how the organization functions and propose company wide initiatives.


  • Ideation Programs: Employees across the company can submit ideas or concerns directly to the leadership team through an online portal, without fearing reprimands or repercussions.


By providing multiple venues for employees to ask questions, promote their ideas, and give feedback directly to executives, employees have the chance to help shape the company. This can be incredibly empowering.


Consider what kind of formal programs would empower your teams. It can be as simple as a suggestion box or as robust as a weekly meeting. What’s important is that executives sincerely listen, take to heart and consider the feedback employees provide through these programs.


Cultivate Executive Listening Skills


The closer people get to the C-suite, the more other employees may be hesitant to truly share what they’re thinking. In order to receive honest feedback, executives need to actively and intentionally work to improve their listening skills and demonstrate to employees that they really want honest feedback.


Learning and adapting are key leadership traits. If executives aren’t having conversations with their employees, they are limiting the information they receive and stifling their opportunities to grow. Formal evaluation tools, like 360-feedback processes and employee surveys, are no replacement for facilitating conversations. 


To get honest feedback, executives should:


  • Ask for feedback. Answers are often only as good as the questions being asked. Get beyond generic questions like “What do you think?” to more specific questions like “Do you think I’m missing anything here?” “Do you think what I’ve outlined is feasible?” and “What do you think I or we should be doing differently?”


  • Read non-verbal cues. People may hold back their verbal feedback, but their body language will often give insight into how they feel. Crossed arms and avoidance of eye contact can be signals that all is not well. Look out for any behavior that’s out of character. If an employee who is normally engaged goes silent, it’s another signal that something is going on. 


  • Act on the feedback that’s given. You won’t be able to act on everything every employee says, but if you never act on anything any employee says, it tells employees that their perspectives don’t matter. It’s a surefire way to make people disengage. 


Google and Ernst & Young’s failure to acknowledge serious employee issues demonstrate what happens when companies don’t trust their employees or value their feedback. By empowering your teams to share their ideas safely in the knowledge that they will be heard, you ensure a win-win-win situation. Your employees feel more valued, your company receives ideas that can help it operate better, and your executives get the feedback that helps them grow.


Start empowering your employees today. Ask them what they think — and then really listen to the answer. 

Emilie Hersh

Emilie Hersh is the COO of RelationEdge, a Rackspace Company. Hersh has over 20 years of experience successfully inspiring and leading teams in marketing, IT, software development, finance, sales, project management, and operational excellence.


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