The concept of employee empowerment has been kicked around in the management literature for decades now, but it nevertheless remains underappreciated and neglected. Perhaps organizations are scared -- leaders often worry that by empowering their employees, they will be handicapping their business. In reality, the opposite is true: Authentic employee empowerment benefits everyone and the organization as a whole.
Empowerment is more than a lofty theoretical concept; hard science backs up the value of empowering employees in the workplace. Among the studies in support of its value is one by management experts who found that employee empowerment has a “direct effect on performance and indirect effects through its influence on job satisfaction and innovativeness.” This can pay huge dividends in the bottom line and lead to both immediate and long-term benefits.
This is particularly true for smaller contact centers. In this environment, each employee can have a greater relative impact on performance than in larger organizations, making empowerment mission-critical regardless of the product or services offered. These employees’ feelings of empowerment are derived from their perceptions of control over the work environment and perceptions of self-efficacy or competence.
In the call center, control of the work environment can be expressed in many ways, from having influence over major business decisions to being able to set up family pictures at a workstation. Giving agents power demonstrates that you trust them, which in turn increases their own perceptions of their competence. Employees need to feel confident and informed about the organization and their own capabilities to optimize their performance. Managers in smaller contact centers, who are more familiar with their staff on a personal level and have more opportunities to build strong relationships with them, often have an advantage when it comes to communicating this trust in making large and small decisions alike.
Part of the challenge is that the contact center environment is not a natural breeding ground for employee empowerment: Scripts, workstations and schedules can be highly restricting. It falls to management to foster opportunities to engage and empower employees through flexibility, information and opportunity. Here are some practical ways you can enhance employee empowerment, boosting your performance metrics in the process.
It’s not hard to understand why employees who work in restrictive environments may feel powerless. Consider allowing employees as much flexibility as possible when it comes to setting their work schedules and responsibilities and defining their roles. With 50 to 150 agents or more, scheduling can be a challenge, but modern workforce management systems offer powerful scheduling solutions that are responsive to employees’ expressed preferences, skill sets and availability. Predictive technologies maximize productivity by balancing staffing rates during quiet periods and enlisting more team members in a holiday rush. It’s a win-win – contact centers optimize ROI, and employees feel empowered by their ability to work according to their own needs.
If knowledge is power, then employees who have insight into their work have an advantage. It can be hard to envision where you fit in the big picture of the business, regardless of the size of the organization. Being able to see how your contribution affects the final outcome gives a greater sense of ownership, which increases accountability and can serve as a motivator for performance improvement. Provide your team with reports and regular tracking of their individual, group and company performance so they are informed about overall capabilities. One of the greatest developments of contact center technology has been the ability to provide staff and management with thorough and regular performance data.
The ability to learn and grow empowers employees by giving them more authority over their performance. Provide your team with opportunities to advance their skills, and be sure to acknowledge their successes. In smaller contact centers in particular, your employees may also appreciate their proximity to leadership. Whether it’s through informal visits to the boss or annual company meetings, giving employees access to those in power in turn empowers them.
Bill Gates perhaps put it best: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Empower your employees, and they will strengthen your own leadership and empowerment.
Paul Chance is a senior product marketing manager for NICE Evolve WFM, the leading software solution used by small and mid-sized contact centers to plan and manage the workforce anywhere from the cloud. For more information, visit www.nice.com/websites/evolvewfm.