Have you ever felt totally frustrated and completely ineffective? I'm sure you have. This feeling can be the result of a number of factors, but most likely it stems from work, and more specifically, a lack of employee empowerment. And chances are that your direct reports have had the same experience at one time or another, as well.

There is almost nothing more exasperating than to be given a job, with full accountability for the completion of that job and for its outcome, but to not be given the authority or power to bring about needed changes or actions.

Imagine that you are put in charge of a specific area of your company's business. You welcome the challenge and look forward to bringing about some needed improvement in the department. You know that at the end of the day you are going to be held accountable to the owner/manager for your performance and will have the ultimate responsibility for the department's overall operation. You carefully analyze the various factors influencing the performance of the area, and you develop a strategic plan and an action plan.

Then, when you try to implement the changes, you're faced with fellow employees who don't recognize the fact that you're trying to help them and the company. You also don't have the support of management and are not recognized as an authoritative decision maker by those under and above you. The employees continue doing business the way they always have and, not surprisingly, get the same results. After awhile, despite the fact that the department has been under your control, nothing has changed. At your annual performance review you're asked, “Why hasn't the performance of the department improved?” The only thing you can respond with is, “I've tried, but nobody listens.”

Obviously, that's not the answer you want to give or the response your higher-ups want to hear. Hence, you need to help turn the tide, and the only way to do that is to foster an empowered employee culture from the bottom up. After all, it has to start somewhere, so why not at your desk?

Employee empowerment is allowing your employees the latitude to make decisions as they arise, and trusting that those decisions are in the best interest of both the company and its customers. You can make sure employees feel empowered by offering them the necessary training to do their jobs, upholding decisions that they make, and fostering a corporate environment that rewards autonomous thinking and actions. In other words, you cannot give someone the responsibility for a job or task without also giving them the means and authority to bring about needed changes.

In the end, people will always dictate the performance results of a business. Having the wrong person in a job will always produce poor results. Having the right people in place will always produce positive results—if they have the authority to do their jobs correctly. Employees are like customers in many ways, and as a manager you need to serve them by making sure that they can perform their jobs with reliability, responsiveness, assurance, and empathy, which coincidentally are also four strategic elements of customer care. Using this approach, you will be able to command performance rather than battle for change.

Mike Butts is director of installation services for United Building Centers. 507.457.8453. E-mail: mike.butts@unitedbuildingcenters.com.