Are Your Employees Really Empowered?

If you weren’t constantly reminding your team and organization that they were empowered, would they know they were?

What I mean is, most organizations and leaders would likely say they want or already have empowered employees. If you were standing in the front of a room of managers or executives and asked them to provide words to describe their ideal employee, the word empowered would probably pop up on that list. If you explore the Careers section of many corporate websites, there will be some mumbo-jumbo saying they empower their employees.

Further, if you pay attention sometimes, you’ll notice that organizations appear to be trying to convince their employees that they’re empowered. “We want you to know that you’re empowered to make decisions,” they’ll say. Or, “You’re empowered to make things happen for the customer.” Or something.

Unfortunately, most of the time employees call bull, and more unfortunate still, they’re often right.

What seems to happen a lot of times is that we–leaders and organizations–like to say or think our employees are empowered when in reality they’re really not all that empowered to do much of anything. At least nothing significant. Sure, maybe they’re empowered in theory, but when it comes down to it–when they’re in the heat of the battle–they have to get seventeen different approvals before they can do anything substantive or different or meaningful. It’s a huge cultural disconnect when you say something is true about the work environment but the reality within that environment says something entirely different.

That’s why this ad from Enterprise grabbed my attention. I’ll give you a second (actually 32 seconds) to go watch it.

Ok…are you back?

Did you pick up on the message there? “If there ever is a problem, we all have the power to make it right.”

And then, “I don’t have to find a manager. I don’t have to make a phone call.”

Oh my gosh! How often have we all been standing there on the other side of the counter at [insert a random retailer here], and we need something done; and the poor sales associate has to call someone, or talk into that wonky-looking headset, or turn on some flashing light over the checkout lane, or wave her arms wildly in the air hoping to get someone’s attention, or whatever. The fact is, sometimes folks can’t do simple things for customers, and that comes from a lack of legitimate empowerment.

Now I don’t work at Enterprise, so I don’t know if that ad is BS or not. But what did strike me about that commercial is that that’s what empowering employees should look like. That’s what it should feel like to them. Basically, you’re making it easier for them to carry out your mission of, well, whatever that mission is for you. For Enterprise, it’s serving people; so they appear to be trying to remove some of that super-annoying bureaucratic stuff that makes it more difficult for their employees to do just that.

I wonder what our employees would say if they had to make similar commercials for our respective organizations?

6 thoughts on “Are Your Employees Really Empowered?

  • Matt,

    As always, good insights. Most organizations talk empowerment but don’t truly walk empowerment. However, the more you empower them the more engaged they are as well. We all want engaged employees–those that buy into where we want our organization to go. The reality is they won’t feel engaged if they also don’t feel empowered to truly do their job. You also must be willing to live with employees making mistakes. We want empowerment but we also want perfect employees. Those two don’t necessarily go together. Be willing to live with their mistakes. I’d rather have an engaged employee who makes a few mistakes than an unengaged employee afraid to make a decision.


  • I recently saw the Enterprise commercial on TV and wondered how true it is. What a great feeling to fill so empowered! Unfortunately, as mentioned in the story above, it might be possible that training for certain situations just are not shared for retail clerks. I am a trainer and hope that our employees can be empowered most of the time to serve the member!

  • I’ve rented many a car from Enterprise and I can say that I’ve never had to utter the phrase “can I speak to a manager please?” I’ve never had an agent say, “I have to get that approved through my manager.” What I like about their service is exactly what they key on in the add. Whenever I’ve had an issue that needed resolving, the reps on the floor have always been able to “make it right.” They absolutely seem empowered to make decisions and take action when it comes to creating a great customer experience. And frankly it paid off with me, because Enterprise is my car rental dealer of choice.

  • Many bosses love to use the word “empowered”. But rarely do understand the true essence of it. They become jittery moment people start thinking and taking initiatives. And they love to pounce upon when one such initiative falls flat. Thank you for this engaging post.

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