Imelda Butler Speaks to Chambers Ireland Magazine

Smarter Business – Lessons in Empowerment

AT a time when there is increased emphasis on competitiveness, empowering workforces to optimise employee output is regarded as crucial. Imelda K Butler, director of Century Management, and Stephen Doran, managing director of Empower Training, offer some tips and lessons.

Tip one: Encourage individual responsibility and accountability
“The single, most important tip for empowering your workforce is to have everyone take full responsibility for and total control of their job, what they do and their contribution to the company,” says Butler. “People should be allowed to take risks, responsibility and decisions related to their work.”

Lesson one: Victim language and the ‘blame game’ must be eliminated to allow everyone to take full responsibility
“Phrases such as ‘I can’t’, ‘I’ll try’ and ‘It’s not my fault’ must be replaced with a ‘can do’ attitude,” Butler says. Many owner-managers have difficulty in delegating and focusing on tangible financial issues, rather than adopting an holistic approach, says Doran. Getting bogged down with this attitude and sitting up all night doing work that could be delegated is counter-productive, he says. “If you give people responsibility, usually they will reward you.”

Owner-managers need to be self-aware so that they can recognise their blind spots, Doran advises. “Typically they are very driven people and are focused on their goals. While this is good, it can also create problems. They may not be good listeners.  If they are too busy to listen, they should consider getting a coach to listen for them. Companies that listen to and respect their workforces have happier staff and happiness at work is a huge factor in boosting productivity.”

Tip two: Chart your course
“Know where the ‘big ship’ is going by having a clear vision for the company, which brings clarity and focus,” says Butler.  “This clarity gives employees a sense of belonging to a promising future. Establish your long-term vision, coupled with your  short-term strategy to bring about success.” 

Lesson two: Companies without clear vision, purpose and direction flounder and waste time, money and resources
“If you don’t know where you are going as leader, your team cannot follow,” warns Butler.

Tip three: Recruit the right people
“Get the right people on board. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins states that if you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage them largely goes away,” says Butler.

Lesson three: If you have the wrong people in your company or have people in the wrong positions, empowerment will not work
“Ask yourself the question: ‘Knowing what I now know about that person, would I still hire him or her?’ If your answer is no, you owe it to yourself and the company to bring closure to that relationship. If the answer is yes, you owe it to the company to empower that individual to succeed and make a valuable contribution,” says Butler.

“Too many companies hire in haste, only to regret making wrong decisions down the road. Follow a systematic,  competency based recruitment plan and when you hire the right people, don’t abandon them. Develop, empower and reward them with lots of responsibility and accountability.”

Tip four: Think training
An estimated 30pc of the Irish workforce don’t have any formal qualifications, Doran says. “We need to empower people working in small to medium-sized enterprises with little or no formal qualifications. They should be helped to build their confidence levels to recognise their ability and intelligence and, where possible, give credit for non-formal training.”

Lesson four: Just because you train people doesn’t mean they will leave
“Consider what happens if they don’t train and stay with you,” says Doran. “Even if someone does training that is unrelated to their job, it will still help motivate them and you don’t know when you might need to tap into that. Cross-training can be beneficial. Many people also enjoy training and education on a social level.”

Tip five: Be prepared to change
“Lead and manage your company through the changes necessary for future growth, results and profitability,” says Butler.

Lesson five: Far too often, companies fall into a comfort zone and don’t make the changes necessary to help them stay in control of their business
“Change when you have a chance of winning or one day you may be forced to change when you have no chance of  winning,” says Butler. “Don’t get caught with your head in the sand.” 

Tip six: Develop a system of open, honest communications
“People like to be ‘kept in the know’ of what’s going on and what the strategy is for the business,” says Butler. “People will feel more empowered, motivated and committed when there is an open line of communications between everyone. Remember, your company’s brainpower is what makes it different.”

Lesson six: Too often the lines of communication are blurred, which leads to a lack of commitment and poorer performance, resulting in reduced productivity
Butler recommends constantly asking: ‘What is the right thing to do in this situation?’ “Once you identify the right action, have the courage to act boldly, make the decisions and take the actions necessary to empower you and your workforce.”

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