How Employee Empowerment Changes Company Culture
At some point, every firm needs to carry out a broad shift in company culture. It could be due to poor financial performance, a recent acquisition or efforts to recruit a more diverse pool of candidates. Whatever the reason, a plan to change company culture requires buy-in from employees. Their day-to-day actions define this culture, and any change plan will fail without their support. Employee empowerment allows those employees to be change agents and building recognition programs to recognize their contributions are critical to the plan’s success.
1. Granting Greater Autonomy to Employees
The traditional business hierarchy is shaped like a pyramid. There’s a small handful of leaders at the top and a lot of front-line employees at the bottom. Instructions pass down the chain without question or critical thought and are executed by the front-line staff. That might work in a small number of process-driven businesses, but otherwise stiff hierarchies are fading away.
In today’s fast-paced world, companies need to quickly respond to business trends and changing consumer tastes. Your business can’t afford to wait for decisions to pass down the chain. Front-line employees need to be granted the autonomy to make their own decisions and come up with solutions. Autonomy and ownership over work are at the core of employee empowerment, and in the global economy, they are increasingly necessary.
2. Career Development/Rotational Programs
One great way to grant greater autonomy to employees is through organized career development programs or rotational programs. Some larger companies have rotational programs for MBAs, but others have programs dedicated to grooming top talent for future leadership. These rotational programs often span the breadth of the business and also focus on core functional skills such as finance, marketing and operations.
Rotations allow employees to network throughout the company and position themselves for larger, cross-functional projects. Those connections give top talent the ability to take on far more advanced, substantive projects than they would otherwise. Investing in employees and preparing them for future leadership roles gives them the skills and relationships that empower them to take on more responsibility. They also gain the incredible potential to be agents of change and can lead to broader cultural transformations.
3. The Importance of Employee Recognition
What drives those cultural transformations is the use of incentive programs that encourage employees to focus on objectives that are important to the company. Global recognition programs with the right incentives can change company culture when everyone focuses on the same goal. However, the actual incentives will vary depending on the specific goal.
Employee incentive programs could be sales incentive programs, customer service incentive programs or other custom plans. What’s important is that the recognition awards highlight the work employees are doing towards the goals that are helping to transform the company. Employers can also pair these programs with employee performance goals evaluated during the annual supervisor review. All employees will be required to work towards the company transformation, but those that do it exceptionally well will be publicly recognized. Financial incentives could be cash or stock, or a combination of both.
4. Have Leadership Set an Example
No strategy, especially one as difficult as changing company culture, is possible without leadership participation. This leadership isn’t made up of supervisors and managers; it is senior leadership with influence and authority. Employees take their cues from them. What’s important to senior leadership is important to everyone else by association. If senior executives don’t consider changing the company culture to be a priority, then no one else will either.
That’s why it’s essential to find a champion for the change strategy. That executive needs to speak to subordinates and demonstrate why change is necessary. This person also needs to address front-line employees en masse, possibly in a town hall setting. A visible, high-level supporter gives a company’s change plan both gravitas and urgency.
5. Transforming a Global Firm
Carrying out a transformation at a global firm poses greater challenges than it does on a local or even national level. Global companies need to make sure that employee incentive programs are uniform across all offices to make them truly meaningful. This requires far greater coordination. Additionally, senior leaders need to ensure that global incentive programs are as uniform as possible (same expectations, requirements for recognition, etc.) while still being flexible enough to recognize local differences.
For example, cash awards are unlikely to be uniform. The same cash award in Boston does not offer the same purchasing power as it does in Bangalore. One way to create uniform awards while recognizing local differences is to offer awards as a percentage of base salary. Building global employee recognition programs can certainly be challenging, but when done right, it can be an incredible driver for change.
Transforming a company’s culture is no easy task. There will always be discomfort in the beginning, before employees really embrace the change. This feat is especially challenging for a global corporation that has to contend with regional or local cultural differences. However, with senior leadership support and employee buy-in, companies can lay the foundation for lasting change. Setting thoughtful incentives and encouraging employees to strive for the same goal are critical for any successful change plan.