Are you really empowering your team to fulfil their potential?

Every organisation would love to be agile and responsive to customer needs, and embrace and develop a culture of involvement and continuous improvement. Achieving this position can yield real sustainable benefits – in quality, customer service levels, reliability, process improvements and ultimately profitability.

To get there is a complex mesh of enablers and activities, from identifying appropriate KPI’s and using them to drive improvement, through to clarifying longer term goals and objectives at a strategic level.

One thing, though, persists as an essential enabler – effective and meaningful communications. In this article, we share some of our experiences and thoughts on breaking down barriers, engaging with staff on ideas and improvements and putting structure and purpose into regular meetings. This will go a long way to engagement and empowering people.

  1. Don’t waste time on the “do what I need to do” 20% of your workforce. These are the ones who will be at work on time, do what is asked of them, but have no real ambition or desire to grow within the business.
    It is a subjective view, but one that a number of people I have spoken to over the years agree with – the typical workforce can be divided into three categories. The rough split of these groups would be 20%, 60% and 20%. The role of the leader in organisations is to identify, propagate and empower the drivers, investing time in their skills development, and making them leaders of incremental change and challenge programs. Taking on the task of involving and engaging with the lower 20% (“comply” group) can drain energy, time, enthusiasm and stop change and empowerment in its tracks. Use the top group as an example, and make them catalysts for change. Done well, the sleeping 60% can be inspired to join the process and this is when real difference starts to happen.
  1. Structure and delegation. With the drivers at the helm of change, they need to be equipped with tools and approaches to problem solving or continuous improvement. From a set of transparent KPI’s, it is possible to identify where improvements can and should be made. Armed with this knowledge, small teams can be given a simple process for prioritising issues, defining problems, assessing and evaluating possible and root causes and then taking steps to implement countermeasures. Management support, even some budget, may be required at this stage.
  1. Cross fertilisation of ideas. “We’ve always done it that way”. One of the biggest barriers to overcome in the process can be the simple ability to see how things COULD be, as opposed to how they are today. This is where a fresh pair of eyes can be alarmingly useful – asking simple questions (which usually start with the word “Why?”) can often be the trigger to unlocking ideas, and solutions. Don’t be afraid to involve people from other teams or locations into small teams.
  1. Rule number one in leadership? Acknowledge and recognise good behaviours and achievements. If a small team makes a positive impact on the organisation, you have a great opportunity to say “thank you” in public (in a manner befitting the culture of the business) and setting an example through them. Give them the credit, share the results and the impact, and use as a rallying cry to recruit more people to get involved and make a difference.





  1. Build momentum. We ran a small group program in China for a client, and had 9 ideas in the first round. After the teams presented to their peer group and the senior management in that market, receiving praise and recognition (hugely important in Chinese culture), the following year saw a growth to over 30 project teams running 40-50 projects. The impact crossed all pillars of the operation, from safety through to quality and efficiency, and had a huge impact on profitability.


Underlying all this is one simple enabler – communication. Use it to inspire the drivers to take a lead, share with them thoughts on a structured approach to small teams and idea generation, develop with them a system they are comfortable with, set timelines and realistic goals, ensure the KPI’s are measured and used for improvement, above all, don’t forget to say thank you when someone, or a team of people, have made a difference, no matter how small. If you invest your time in your people, you can get payback many times over, but respect and use their knowledge.

The author trains and advises organisations on change management, improvement programs and improving profitability through people. To know more, or to see how we can help you get more out of your staff, contact

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