What is empowerment and how does it cultivate a productive culture?
In a recent chat for USA Manufacturing Hour on Twitter, host Meaghan Ziemba led a discussion on this topic. Meaghan is the host of Mavens of Manufacturing, a video cast series that empowers women to change the world through manufacturing.
The Meaning of Empowerment
The chat began with participants sharing what empowerment means to them.
Kirsten Austin from DCSC Inc said, “Having all the tools necessary to accomplish a task or goal”
David Meyer from BizzyWeb said, “Empowerment is helping people do/get/have what they want - "powering up" their jobs and sometimes lives.”
Missy Moorefield Southern Fasteners and Supply said, “Hmm... This is one of the words that I know, but don't really *know*. If that makes sense. I'm leaning toward David Meyers answer though.
Brett from FreightPOP said, “Empowerment to me is being able to take care of business (both personally and professionally) and get things done on your own, with little to no reliance on anyone else! (Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with needing some help; we all do at some point!)”
Ruby Rusine and the Social Success Marketing team said, “It's having the confidence and resources to take ownership of one's life, to make own decisions, and to have the freedom to pursue one's passions. It's having the courage to stay true to one's values and beliefs and to live in accordance with them.”
Val W from Monofrax LLC said, “Autonomy, independence, the opposite of micromanagement.”
Michelle Riccetto from Brash Inc. said, “empowerment entails elevating those around you by actively listening to them and creating an environment where others feel encouraged to step into their power.”
Chase Bodor from Plastic Plus Technology said, “Giving the tools (hard tools and support) to people that allow them to operate at maximum mental, physical, and emotional capacity.”
Kati McDermith, the Manufacturing Hype Girl said, “To me it really means making the tools, support, and services readily available that allow someone to take control and have the power to accomplish amazing things.”
Nigel Packer from Pelatis Online said, “Removing management controls to allow your teams to learn and grow from their experiences. To be there to support them when they have questions.”
Whitney Koch from Welker said, “Empowerment means having authority. Like you are empowered to make decisions or purchases without having to run those by anyone else.”
Pavel Stepanov from VirtuDesk said, “Providing everything that your team will need to finish or accomplish their tasks.”
Ingor Van Rooi, The Networking Ninja said,” To me empowerment means helping someone be the VERY BEST version of themselves.”
Host Zimeba said, “Empowerment involves creating a sense of ownership and control over one’s life, work, and circumstances.”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary (@MerriamWebster) defines empowerment as: The act or action of empowering someone or something: the granting of the power, right, or authority to perform various acts or duties.
She continued, “Empowerment can take many forms:
- Providing access to information that helps them make informed decisions. Can include education and training, as well as access to data and resources.
- Encouraging participation and involvement in decision-making processes.
- Providing resources and support needed to achieve their goals, including financial support, mentorship, and coaching.
- Giving individuals a voice so they have the opportunity to express their ideas and opinions. Can include opportunities for public speaking and advocacy, and channels for feedback and input.
- Recognizing and rewarding contributions that lead to career advancement and growth.
Leaders and Empowerment
Next participants shared what they think manufacturing leaders should know about empowerment.
Gina Tabasso from Magnet said, “It means letting go of control and trusting, not micromanaging.”
Meyer said, “Manufacturing leaders need to know that empowerment is a tactical and competitive advantage. It's good business to empower your people.”
McDermith said, “Maybe a better question is what can we teach them about empowerment? The problem is that someone forgot to EMPOWER the manufacturers' leaders...”
Host, Ziemba agreed, “Good point.”
To which Tabasso added, “or power versus empower.”
Val said, “Empowerment is necessary for employee retention and recruitment.”
Rusine agreed, “This is so true, Val.”
Stepanov said, “Allowing your team to take control of their lives, make decisions, and achieve their goals which can be accomplished by providing the support they need.”
Rusine said, “Giving employees more control over their work will allow them to make decisions and take initiative in their roles leading to increased motivation & engagement & resulting in higher quality products & improved customer service.”
Packer said, “To give the right brief and know when to let go to leave your teams to get on with the job.”
Koch said, “Mfg leaders should know that empowering their employees helps everyone succeed.”
Austin said, “These are some Great Answers USA Mfg Team!”
Van Rooi said, “When the leaders empower those in their company, it in turn contributes to the greater good and enables the organization to grow from within and be their best!”
Stepanov added, “Manufacturing leaders should understand that empowerment is a great tool for building trust, increasing productivity, driving innovation, strengthening retention, and creating an engaged and collaborative culture in their companies.”
Host Zimeba said, “Empowerment is a critical factor in driving success within an organization. B2B leaders should keep in mind:
- Empowerment drives engagement and motivation:
- Empowerment fosters creativity and innovation:
- Empowerment improves decision-making:
- Empowerment builds trust:
- Empowerment requires clear communication and accountability:
A Culture of Empowerment
The chat then progressed to how manufacturing leaders can develop a culture of empowerment.
Meyer said, “We work hard at BizzyWeb to encourage growth, and tolerate (maybe even celebrate) learning and mistakes. Keep moving forward always, and if you don't get out of your comfort zone you're not growing.”
Host Ziemba replied, “Nailed it!”
Val said, “Through education, support, and mentorship. Also, allowing employees to take initiative and make decisions without requiring multiple levels of approval.”
Moorefield said, “One problem I see is that lots of people don't like to let go of the reins. That will definitely stop the development of the”
To which Koch replied, “Isn't that the truth.”
Rusine said, “Encourage collaboration and creative problem-solving; set clear expectations and goals, provide resources and support, and create an open dialogue between employees and management; take risks; and build trust.”
McDermith said, “Cross training! Knowledge is power! I would have never known how much I liked manufacturing if I had never been shown the plant floor!”
To which Tabasso replied, “I think it should be required to go on a factory/plant tour in 7th or 8th grade the same way people go to Washington DC.”
Bodor said, Using the voice of your employees to drive initiatives and improvements that they care about. Listening, empathetically, to their challenges, finding what can help them, deploying some ideas, and building feedback channels to eval improvements.”
To which Rusine replied, “That's a great way to foster an empowering culture that encourages growth and rewards effort!”
Koch said, “That's the million-dollar question. I think they need to start with some introspection to uncover why they haven't been empowering their employees already and work from there.”
Packer said, “Remove "Blame culture" and accept that we all make mistakes, learn from them. Look for the positives in everyone's actions. Make sure everyone has had full training for the jobs they do. (Often assumed, often overlooked).”
Host Ziemba replied, “Agreed.”
Van Rooi said, “One way would be to help their people develop and grow through education.”
Stepanov said, “Leaders must demonstrate empowering practices. Empower your own team, delegate jobs and responsibilities, and encourage innovation and creativity to demonstrate your dedication to empowerment.”
He added, “Allow employees to make decisions and take ownership of their job. Encourage them to be innovative, to experiment, and to learn from their failures. Give them advice and encouragement, but don't micromanage or over-manage their work.”
Host Ziemba made the following recommendations:
- Set a clear vision that outlines your goals, values, and priorities.
- Communicate expectations and goals for each employee, team, and department so they know how their work contributes to the organization’s success.
- Provide training and resources so employees can do their jobs effectively and feel confident in their ability to make decisions and take action.
- Delegate authority to employees at all levels so they can take action without constant oversight. No one likes micromanagers.
- Encourage collaboration and feedback to create a work environment that values teamwork, open communication, and constructive criticism.
- Recognize and reward success to encourage employees to take initiative and foster a culture of empowerment.
- Lead by example and model the behavior you want to see in your employees. This means demonstrating a willingness to take risks, make decisions, and take responsibility for the outcomes.
Empowering Female Employees
Participants then shared how manufacturing leaders can empower their female employees.
Austin said, “Now that's a good question! What do you think USA Mfg Team?”
Rusine said, “Create a culture of respect, promote diversity & inclusivity, offer comprehensive training & development opportunities. Equal opportunities-ensure that their recruitment, promotion, and wage policies are fair and unbiased.”
Host Ziemba replied, “Yes!”
McDermith said, “the unpopular opinion committee says "Same way they empower their male employees."”
Val said, “Giving all employees the same opportunities, training, and resources. Practicing empathy and listening skills with everyone.”
Tabasso said, “Not have a double standard for men/women. Not tell women they are "too emotional/expressive" yet reward poor behavior, anger, condescension, control, and put downs from male counterparts. Pay equal salaries. Cut slack when we care for our house, kids, pets, home, work, selves, elderly parents when some male counterparts have a wife that does all that.
Koch said, “They should get a corporate membership to @WomeninMFG so all their employees could benefit from the learning and networking.
She added, “And, Kati McDermith and I led a workshop about businesses being more breastfeeding-friendly and how that can improve business outcomes.”
Stepanov said, “Many women struggle to balance work and family duties. Female employees can be empowered by manufacturing leaders that provide flexible work arrangements like remote work, job sharing, and flexible hours.”
Packer said, “Inclusion and encouragement of ALL team members will bring the best to the fore. Not everyone wants to be a leader. Positive discrimination can lead to team failure and ultimately business failure.”
Chris Giglio from Zero Surge said, “By ensuring that their opinions and ideas are valued as highly as their male counterparts. Also, by making sure their voices are heard and respected. Basically, treat everyone like a human being which for some is unfortunately a struggle.”
Host Ziemba said, “Forbes provided some really great tips on how to empower your female employees (https://www.forbes.com/sites/biancabarratt/2019/06/13/ten-tips-on-how-to-empower-other-women-at-work/):
- Celebrate their strengths
- Connect them to the right people
- Back them up in meetings
- Suggest them for leading projects
- Be approachable and offer help
- Time spent working should be valued on quality over quantity
- Be open about your own vulnerabilities and failings
- Speak openly about salaries
- Set up measurable targets so achievements are tangible
- Accept and embrace individuality
Risk for Not Empowering Employees
The chat wrapped up with participants sharing their thoughts on the risks for manufacturing leaders who do not empower their employees.
Val said, “Difficulty in hiring and retaining employees. Snarls of bureaucracy. Lack of employee motivation. Bad culture. Business decline & death.”
Van Rooi said, “They risk having a high turnaround and no support from their employees, which could possibly trickle down into the rest of their community, including clients.”
Stepanov said, “Employees may post unfavorable opinions about the business with their networks or on review websites if they feel disempowered or mistreated. This can harm the manufacturing industry's reputation and make it harder to attract and retain top employees.”
Rusine replied, “That spells disaster.”
Rusine said, “This can result in decreased employee engagement, decreased productivity, and a lack of innovation. There's also the risk of losing the trust of their team, leading to a decrease in productivity and morale.”
Bodor said, “Your most talented employees WILL LEAVE.”
Meyer said, “We're seeing the risks play out for manufacturers who rely on status quo or have been resistant to change and empowerment. Their teams are shrinking & nobody wants to work for them. Today's workforce is savvy, smart & knows what they're worth. Evolve or fade away.”
Koch said, “Your employees will be so worn down that they quiet quit. Your employees will be so burnt out by the culture that they for real quit. Neither is good for leaders.”
Riccetto agreed with, “Well said!”
Stepanov added, “Manufacturing executives may miss out on great chances for innovation and growth if staff is not enabled to share their ideas and knowledge. Employee empowerment can result in new insights and views that can help the company prosper.”
Packer said, “Feeling devalued, reduced engagement and breakdown of loyalty to the business and team. This can lead to a breakdown of team cohesion and loss of impetus. Recreating a new team is expensive and time consuming.”
Host Ziemba said, “Manufacturers who do not empower their employees face risks such as:
- Decreased productivity
- High turnover rates
- Poor reputation
- Legal liabilities
- Missed opportunities for innovation
- Decreased profitability
She continued, “Manufacturing leaders should prioritize empowerment as a key strategy for driving success and fostering a positive work culture.”
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