The Two E’s: Engagement and Empowerment (SD101: Core Principles Ep 1 companion article)
This is the first companion article of a new series of videos and podcasts for Stand Up Retail called SELF-DEVELOPMENT 101 : CORE PRINCIPLES. This collection contains short 15 min videos and podcasts centered around core concepts and skills that apply to ALL ROLES within the retail workforce (and beyond).
As usual, our companion articles will go much more in depth than our YouTube videos (you can access this one HERE) and our podcasts (access our pod hub HERE). You can expect articles that lean heavily towards lessons and analogies to help keep these core principles clear in your mind and actionable in your daily work. Most of the companion articles from this series will also help you redefine and reset your understanding around many concepts to help you stay focused, feel more satisfied with, and be more actively involved in your role and goals at work.
Let’s dig in!
First off – LOTS of words and phrases get over-used at work. Many garner an eye roll or two between co-workers in a meeting setting. “Business Buzzwords” can be a huge turnoff to a workforce that is tired, apprehensive, going through tough times or especially major organizational changes.
So… yeah, kind of like the last 2 years, right?
The worst offenders usually get placed into a betting pool if they’ve become annoying enough or even devalued enough to the group listening… (“Alright Gerry, how many times will the presenter, who is talking about giving us more responsibility, say the word AGILE or NEW NORMAL in this webinar? Let’s make a bet…” It happens, folks.)
“Circle back” and “Take this off-line” are still in the top 10 from 2021, with words like ‘pivot’, ‘agile’ and ‘alignment’ switching positions but still within the top 20 most annoying business buzzwords. Often these phrases and words end up having no real meaning to people as they are vague in definition, not used in the right context or even are morphed into something completely different over time.
Two words that are not on these lists but are often the most misunderstood and devalued words in the workplace (and therefore are often unrealized and overlooked), are ENGAGEMENT and EMPOWERMENT. And yes, to those in the service industry, who hear these words CONSTANTLY (especially if you are a leader or supervise others) they can jump in and out of the ‘annoying camp’ throughout the year.
These two are words that pretty much ALL people in the workforce have heard, regardless of industry. And due to their broad scope and overuse/misuse, they are ‘nodded to’ and ‘yessed’ into oblivion, with very few organizations or teams fully able to grab on and use them to their advantage. The teams that do leverage these concepts, do so to much success and consistent growth.
Keeping your personal success and your goals top of mind, Edward digs into these two words and asks you get comfortable and trust that he has your best interest at heart.
Typically, when these two words are used, most of those listening go on to assume that they are something that someone else controls or takes action on. The truth is, these two concepts are extremely personal and can help drive a career forward or, conversely, into the ground.
Topic #1: Engagement
So, who owns engagement? Is it HR? Is it the Organization? Is it the Leader/Manager? In truth, everyone does. But take a moment to think about the levels of any organizational structure (we discussed this very thing in an earlier video HERE). Can someone more than one level above you have any real effect on your daily engagement? Probably not. But a direct leader over a group of people can have a huge impact on the group that they are leading. **Side note: If your engagement is tied to rate of pay or hours of operations, you may be thinking engagement = satisfaction; keep reading to learn more!
When you think in visual terms, it’s often easier to reset your mindset when you’ve become disengaged and find yourself looking at other’s to fix your engagement for you. Try thinking in terms of 1) what you can control, 2) what you can influence, and 3) what you have no control over but can impact you. This is called the Circle of Influence, and we’ve modified it to be relevant to store-based retailers (and other corporate structured service industries).
Now, engaging someone requires you to not just have strong communication skills but to have great interpersonal skills as well. Engagement requires that you discuss topics about the individual’s behaviors, skills or conduct, which in turn requires you to be COMFORTABLE with a professional yet personal level of getting to know those who work for you.
When push comes to shove, this is not just someone else’s job to make sure you’re engaged. Yes, many, MANY people play a part in driving engagement enterprise-wide, but personal ownership of your own engagement and the engagement of those you lead gives you much more control of (and almost guarantees you maintaining) your own workplace engagement. That is why Edward likens it to being COMFORTABLE.
Ask yourself: Are you comfortable at work? Comfortable in your role, your location, your team, your organization or enterprise… Comfortable with the goals you’ve set for yourself and the goals of your team or company? Comfortable in your work relationships with your co-workers, with the communication you receive, with the support you are given? Comfortable in being able to speak up, share your suggestions and be appreciated for your efforts? Comfortable in the knowledge that you are more than an employee number?
Now being comfortable does not mean that you have to be 100% satisfied or to not wish that things could be different or better in some ways. Suggestions that impact workplace satisfaction are needed and are required for companies to evolve and experience growth. BUT understand this: giving suggestions to improve your satisfaction does require a level of comfort and engagement paired with understanding the above Circle of Engagement Influence.
That being said: Again, are you comfortable? If you can answer yes, you most likely are an engaged employee. One who actively participates and connects themselves (and their work) to the greater goals of the organization you find yourself employed by… feeling seen, feeling heard, feeling appreciated.
If you answer no: chances are, you are disengaged… unplugged from that feeling of value, that understanding that you and your thoughts/ideas matter… And that is most often when disengagement leads to bad workplace experiences, or even to seeking new employment.
The benefits of an engaged workforce are many, but Edward outlines some top reasons to work towards it below:
- Are self-motivated
- Have a clear understanding of their roles
- Recognize the significance of their contribution
- Focus on future training and development
- Feel that they belong to the community—that is, the organization
When you’re comfortable (aka engaged) you are more likely to participate in your own success rather than expect success to just happen for you. Even having tough conversations with direct reports or a supervisor can be easier and objectively produce better outcomes when the employee is engaged or COMFORTABLE in that relationship, role or situation. In general, many things become easier and flow smoother when you are (and a higher percentage within your team is) engaged/comfortable.
Reframing your understanding of the word ENGAGEMENT will help you gain some clarity as you start the new year. Do you want to be engaged? Do you need to re-engage? Are you comfortable? Yes or no? WHY?
**We will explore how to create this feeling of comfort that is the bedrock of employee engagement in a later episode. We will also explore how to ‘RE-ENGAGE’ if you find yourself uncomfortable in your current role or employment. Both are 100% possible, but do require commitment and work, which is why they will be separate topics!
Topic #2: EMPOWERMENT
As we all know, the base meaning of EMPOWERMENT is the act of granting power to someone to do something. We also know that in order to give something up (that power), we must TRUST the other person to use it in the way intended. In today’s workspaces, with some organizations allowing their employees to work from home, reduced staffing sizes, responsibilities expanded, and personal interactions minimized due to all of the above…… empowering others has gotten harder to do because we may not physically see others using ‘the power’ we grant.
When you hear the word “Empowerment” you should immediately translate that into the word “TRUST“.
It is often hard to trust, and there’s a very good reason for that. Just as our own personal control and influence decreases as our circle spreads outward, the same goes for our ability to trust. The further a person (or a position) is from our current work role, the more our trust decreases. It’s a natural response, as in our personal lives, we trust strangers much MUCH less (if at all) compared to our closest family and friends. But in today’s workspaces (working remotely, less in-person interactions), we also have to consider that the less we ‘see’ others, the less we might ‘trust others’, even if they are closer within our circle of trust.
So, how do you do it? How can you successfully be empowered or empower others? Edward sees the key to empowerment in today’s workspaces as 4 simple actions to take:
- Feedback matters: GIVE IT and RECEIVE IT. Let your team know that you hear what they have to say and that you are invested.
- Recognition goes a long way: BE AWARE AND RECOGNIZE THEIR USE OF THE POWER. Individuals who are recognized for their hard work feel more empowered and will do their best.
- Professional Growth…. & Necessary Support: LINK the POWER to their GOALS. Never let your employee feel that there is no growth or that they cannot do more. Many individuals find their PATH through being empowered and it’s important that you supply the proper level of support in their journey.
- The Culture & Vision: IF YOU AS THE SUPERVISOR CAN SEE IT, THEN YOUR EMPLOYEES CAN FEEL IT. It takes clear communication, ‘showing’ not just ‘telling’ people what the vision is and that it is being positioned as a central goal for your location, as well as for the way you are interacting with or managing people. It CAN NOT be a hidden secret. Do YOU understand the culture and vision of your organization? Of your location? Of your team? Do your employees? If your answer is no to any of these, your message might be muddled (or your actions might not be seen or felt.)
(NOTE: while the above is written in terms of a leader empowering others, you can easily shift it to apply it to an hourly employee BEING empowered; i.e. “I should give feedback and be ready to receive it, I should recognize when I’m being empowered, I should try to link this empowerment to my own goals and if I don’t feel the culture, I may not fully understand it and should ask for clarity.”)
The Benefits of an Empowered Workforce
- Are self-motivated
- Have greater trust in leadership
- Have and level of improved creativity
- Strengthens the bottom line
- Feel that they belong to the community—that is, the organization
As the ‘giver of power’, placing trust in the one you are granting it to can be hard. BUT there are many reasons, as a leader, you should be leveraging empowerment to develop your team. Similarly, as the ‘receiver of power’, you must trust that it is being given for your benefit, whether in a developmental lesson, a form of recognition for new skills that have been learned, or as a means to re-engage you with your work. ALL are very important things to consider especially if you find yourself looking at empowerment as someone else just passing their work off on you.
As Edward and Carrie discuss, people who hear the word EMPOWER tend to act in two different ways depending on which part of the word they focus on.
- EM: to imbue or grant or gift unto someone
- POWER: authority
TRUST is at the core of BOTH of these parts of the word and should be remembered whenever exploring how to empower an individual or team.
In the next episode (and article), Carrie tackles the concept of TRUST and explores how to master both halves of the whole: HOW TO EARN IT and HOW TO GRANT IT.
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