Home Opinion Unlocking the Power of the Workforce

Unlocking the Power of the Workforce

by Brian Sims
Peter Webster

Peter Webster

We spend a significant proportion of our lives at work and, if you work for the entirety of your adult life until pensionable age here in the UK, you could be engaged in some form of paid employment for almost 50 years. Peter Webster outlines the importance of empowering the workforce in order to maximise individuals’ potential and, ultimately, provide a better level of customer service.

There can be no doubt that a fulfilling, invigorating and stimulating working life is vital for a general sense of well-being. It’s also true to say that nobody goes to work with the intention of doing a bad job.

While that last point might sound like a statement of the obvious, it’s surprising just how detrimental poor leadership and management can be in hindering the ability of an individual to do a good job. There are still instances of where capable employees are asked to leave their brains at the entrance to the workplace, rather than engage actively in their roles and how they might be performed for additional gain.

Fortunately, a growing number of organisations are recognising the value of empowering their workforces in order for them to become more efficient and effective. It’s important, however, not to confuse empowerment with abdication and simply ‘passing the buck’. Good leadership is vital in this respect. Equally, leadership must not be confused with management: the former is people-driven, the latter process-driven.

Many of today’s businesses are managed rather than led, and this often creates a fragmented and silo-driven culture that can easily develop conflicting interests, politicking and a lack of strategic direction. It’s up to the CEO to establish a clear direction about where the company is going, how it will attain that position and why it wants to be there. This will need to be communicated in a specific way that makes employee decisions fit within the overall corporate strategy.

Looking towards motivation

There’s no shortage of good examples of strong leadership highlighting some of the attitude and character needed to motivate others. Virgin’s Richard Branson, for instance, is generally considered something of a guru when it comes to business and leadership matters.

“A great leader is someone who’s inspirational and a tremendous motivator of people,” asserted Branson. “Somebody willing to delegate, who doesn’t try to do everything themselves and allows people to make mistakes. Someone who can stand back and look at the bigger picture and, by delegating, free themselves up to take the company forward into new areas. Somebody who passionately believes in what they’re doing.”

Certain leaders believe in the value that every employee brings to a company. Take Howard Schultz, the chairman and CEO of Starbucks. As someone who came from a poor New York family and achieved ‘The American Dream’, Schultz remains interested in investing in other people’s success and continues to plough his money into myriad business ventures.

Starbucks is also known for its treatment of employees and putting them first. This was exemplified in 1997, when three employees were killed in a bungled robbery at one of the company’s Washington DC stores. Instead of simply issuing a press release or talking about the episode on TV, Schultz flew straight to Washington and spent the entire week with the remaining members of staff and their families by way of affording practical support.

Encapsulating a vision

Although empowerment is important, good businesses are not democracies. They need to have strong leaders who can encapsulate a strategic vision for the company and take it in a particular direction.

That said, good businesses should be consultative autocracies that operate on the basis of encouraging input from employees, listening to their ideas and concerns and then deciding how to act upon them. Strong leaders are inclusive, and this makes employees feel part of the process by giving them ownership, personal satisfaction and control. Put simply, autocracy without consultation doesn’t work. It merely serves to alienate the workforce.

A study by Catalyst found that showing humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included. In a survey of more than 1,500 workers from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico and the US, Catalyst discovered that when employees observed altruistic or selfless behaviour in senior personnel such as the admittance of mistakes – in turn empowering employees to learn, develop and take personal risks for the greater good – they were more likely to report feelings of inclusion.

Good leaders are also consistent. Those who are inconsistent in their actions are almost impossible to work for because their employees end up becoming stressed while trying to second guess what they should be doing in order to adhere to the corporate strategy.

Set of brand values

Every organisation should have a clearly defined set of brand values that can be easily understood and acted upon. For example, within a specialist security services company, this could mean being dedicated to the security, safety and well-being of customers’ people, property and assets through the employment of fully-trained, highly-skilled, well-presented, courteous and motivated personnel.

Such values should also extend to activities within the company, and perhaps encompass behaving with integrity, honesty and reliability and supporting each other as much as possible.

Everyone should matter. A service can only be as good as the people providing it. Investing in employees ensures that they’re given the requisite knowledge and skills to enhance their careers. This ‘circle of care’ can be summed up as follows… If a company looks after its colleagues, they will look after its clients who, in turn, look after the company by retaining its services long-term. It’s a system that ensures a sense of inclusivity and working towards a defined set of common objectives.

Devising a Charter or list of commitments from employer to employee and vice versa provides a useful benchmark for activities. At Corps Security, one of the things our Colleague Charter states is that we’ll endeavour to make sure pay, holidays, sickness entitlement and expenses are right first time. However, if we make a mistake, we promise to rectify it quickly. Problems must be acknowledged as having been received within 24 hours, with the aim of sorting out any issues inside 48 hours.

Clear parameters defined

In order to feel completely empowered in the workplace, people need clarity about their tasks and clear parameters of what those tasks enable them to do (and not to do). If this is done correctly it improves the working life of individuals because they’re performing a worthwhile role, have a level of responsibility and authority and can affect the outcome of what it is they’re paid to do.

Training is perhaps the most effective way of ensuring that employees feel valued, learn to evaluate results and gauge success. They should have a clearly defined and well-structured career path that allows them to perform their role to the very highest standard.

A personal development plan, which plots out the coaching and assistance that they can expect to receive, helps provide a measurable level of training for employees. Such a plan also enables both parties to understand their obligations, while a yearly appraisal can help to deliver exceptional customer service and inspire people to ‘go beyond the expected’.

Training should never be considered a ‘one-hit wonder’, as knowledge and Best Practice acquisition must be ongoing. The Internet has enabled training to be delivered in ever-more innovative formats, a good example being our own ‘Securing Excellence’ e-Learning programme for front line security officers.

This comprises 15 on-demand, video-based modules that can be accessed via a secure online portal. Each video is 20-30 minutes in duration, with the subjects covered including the achievement of good customer service, Health and Safety, fire safety awareness and safe manual handling. Colleagues are able to select the modules most relevant to them and complete those modules at their own pace.

There’s another very good reason why employers should look to empower their staff – low labour turnover. Those employees who feel valued, respected and kept up-to-date with what’s happening within an organisation will provide an enthusiastic, trustworthy, honest and ethical service. What’s more, they’ll be less likely to look elsewhere when the time comes for them to further their career.

Peter Webster is CEO of Corps Security

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