How to Implement a Culture of Empowerment

Episode 48

Episode Overview

Culture of empowerment in and micromanaging out!

In this episode of the Hire Calling Podcast, host Pete Newsome is joined by human resources expert Ricky Baez to share tips on creating and fostering a workplace culture of empowerment.

So what is a culture of empowerment? We define this as motivating your employees to chart their own course and make their own decisions to help meet the organization’s goals.

This is a great way to keep your employees engaged and excited to help propel the company forward.

Why is this important? How can you implement a culture of empowerment? Tune in to find out!

29 minutes

View transcript

Ways to Foster a Culture of Empowerment

  • Listen to your employees. Allow everyone to chart their own course, but don’t expect them to necessarily take full advantage of it. We are all so different; this is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Set the stage for it to happen, but don’t require it either.
  • Create a learning environment for your employees. Encourage them to do something nobody else has done, but also allow them to take ownership of their mistakes and learn from them. Innovation will benefit your organization. 
  • Start at the top. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to set the tone and say yes. If you want your employees to feel empowered, you have to mean it.
  • Embrace transparency. Create an environment where your employees are free to speak their minds. Employees should feel equally as safe giving you both good and bad news. 
  • Hold your employees accountable. If they feel accountable for your organization’s success, then they will be motivated to step up to the plate. 
  • Make space for creative work. Prioritize company culture and allow your employees to use their talents to benefit your organization.
  • Invest in technology. If you’re going to encourage your employees to be innovative and creative, give them the ability to be successful in doing it.
  • Focus on the why. Remember why the goal exists and why empowerment is so important. 

Additional resources

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the president of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. His mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way, while building an organization with boundless opportunities for ingenuity and advancement. When not managing 4 Corner’s growth or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his sales and business expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Hire Calling podcast.

Ricky Baez

About Rick Baez

Efrain “Ricky” Baez Jr. is a published human resources professional specializing in strategically aligning HR competencies to business goals with a down to earth, common sense approach. Ricky is a four- year veteran of the United States Marine Corps and holds a Masters degree in Human Resources (MHR) from Rollins College and an SPHR certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute. Ricky is also a faculty member for the Master of Human Resources program at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.


Pete Newsome 00:13
You’re listening to the Hire Calling Podcast, your source for all things hiring, staffing, and recruiting. I’m your host Pete Newsome, and I’m joined by Ricky Baez. Ricky, how are you today?

Ricky Baez 00:23
Pete, I’m doing great, man. How about you?

Pete Newsome 00:24
I’m doing awesome. We’re talking today about a subject that’s really near and dear to my heart as a business owner. It’s one of the reasons I ended up starting my company 18 years ago, almost. And it has to do with empowerment in the workplace.

Pete Newsome 00:41
We wrote a blog about this a couple of months ago, and I wanted to get your take on it as a seasoned HR professional. So let’s start at the top in defining a culture of empowerment in the workplace. What does it mean to you, Ricky?

Ricky Baez 00:56
I hate to be cliche with culture of empowerment, but I’m going to go there. Empowerment to me in the workplace is when you as a leader, hire the right person for the right role because there’s a specific skill set you need that the team does not have.

Ricky Baez 01:14
You bring them on and then you give that employee full reins and control over whatever project you hire them to do. And you empower them to make the right decisions for the betterment of the goal, whatever goal that is for the organization. To me, that’s what empowerment means.

Pete Newsome 01:29
So a culture of empowerment gives your employees the ability to make their own decisions, chart their own course, and take risks at times, perhaps? To me, all those things are how a business should run. But how most businesses don’t run because that’s a tough thing. That’s a tall order for a lot of companies.

Pete Newsome 01:56
And the reason it’s personal to me is I couldn’t find that at my previous employers, I wanted to be able to make decisions, I wanted to do things that would help improve the organization and move it forward. And there was a lot of opposition to that.

Pete Newsome 02:13
Now that was working for very large companies. And I believe the bigger the company, the harder that becomes to empower individual employees. But I think it’s what makes a business great. And I think it is what helps employees stay engaged and interested in really committed to like you said, the goal overall.

Ricky Baez 02:35
So let me ask you this, Pete, because you have something really interesting. The empowerment piece was one of the reasons why you started 4 Corner Resources.

Pete Newsome 02:45

Ricky Baez 02:46
Right? So there was something missing in your relationship with your employer. So can we dig a little bit deeper dive because I want to understand what was the one thing that drove you to it? What specific part of empowerment was lacking when you worked back in the day?

Pete Newsome 03:03
So I think it was the lack of a feeling that I could make a difference individually. I didn’t feel even though I was in roles of various importance, I felt that my ability to move the company forward from my own decisions and actions was lacking. And I thought it was a feeling that grew over time, which was what a bad way to work.

Pete Newsome 03:35
It was a bad feeling to have that you could have the best idea in the world. But if the organization wasn’t able or willing to embrace it, it wouldn’t matter. And so as that thought grew, and it wasn’t personal for me, I mean, the feeling was personal. It wasn’t something that just impacted me personally, but I saw it with others within my organization.

Pete Newsome 04:02
In the two organizations that I worked for specifically, both had about 5,000 employees, one had around 16,000 employees. So these are large companies where you hear the phrase being just a cog right in the machine. That’s sort of how it felt. And I wanted to operate a business in a very different way.

Pete Newsome 04:23
I wanted to give everyone that feeling that not that they mattered in just a silly way, like you matter, everyone matters, but in a way that you could make the difference between being good or decent and being great, and that’s something that I sought as an employee but couldn’t find, which is really one of the main reasons I ended up starting my own company.

Ricky Baez 04:50
So that’s an interesting take on it, Pete, because you know, when you hear about empowerment or lack of empowerment, that’s what drives employees to either leave or do something else, and for the organization, that’s bad news because you are losing great talent, but there are always two sides to a coin.

Ricky Baez 05:08
So what I’m hearing from you is, is that because of the lack of empowerment you received was the catalyst that caused you to start 4 Corner Resources and be successful today. Versus if you were empowered back, then you may not have taken the leap of faith to start your company. Is that a fair assessment?

Pete Newsome 05:27
Yeah, it is. Absolutely. Well, keep going.

Ricky Baez 05:32
Well, I was gonna say so I mean, I guess it depends, right? Because that is not generally, on average, obviously, if all your employees leave you, as a business owner, because of lack of empowerment, they may go out and do bigger and better things. But you do have to pay attention to that as a business leader, right?

Ricky Baez 05:51
Because if you got top talent, you really want to retain them. And that is one of the best ways to push top talent away. If you’re always micromanaging, not you but just a business leader would always micromanage them and not give them that sense of not entitlement, but empowerment to make decisions on their own to move the needle from A to B for the organization.

Pete Newsome 06:11
Well, so you’re assuming that equation, that everyone wants that responsibility.

Ricky Baez 06:17
Which they don’t.

Pete Newsome 06:18
They don’t. Well, there are many people who, despite so I’ll tell you that this was one of the surprises I’ve had over the years. That most people don’t want that responsibility, they don’t have that drive, to come up with new ideas to be innovative, to take chances, I assumed incorrectly that everyone felt the way I did.

Pete Newsome 06:48
I assumed that by opening the doors and saying, you’d come here as an employee, and you have the ability to chart your own course, that would be universally well received. And it’s an uncomfortable place to be for many people. And you know, I’ve also realized that over time.

Pete Newsome 07:08
And so you have so the perfect balance for me is giving everyone that opportunity but not expecting everyone to take full advantage of it. And that’s okay because we’re all so different.

Pete Newsome 07:20
And listen, I’ve come to realize over the years that I’m a risk taker, that I’m someone who will jump first and then look and see where I’m going to land. And that is not the norm necessarily. And I think even you’ve called me out on that over time.

Ricky Baez 07:38
Well, that’s because we got a good relationship, Pete, and you know, now looking at that article, part of it, where it says how to implement a culture of empowerment in the workplace, you just talked about number three, and number three is listening to your employees. Because Pete, you’re right, I made that same mistake in the first part of my career, I’ve always wanted to move up that corporate ladder, and I thought everybody had the same hunger as I did.

Ricky Baez 08:06
And they didn’t, some people are perfectly happy where they are. So as a business leader, if you listen to what your employees have to say, they’re going to let you know how to chart their own career, whether it’s staying where they are right now and being the best person they possibly can be in that role for the next 20 or 30 years, depending what they want, then guide them towards that, right?

Ricky Baez 08:28
And the opposite is also true, an employee will tell you man, in five years, I want to be a director in 10 years, I want to be a VP, then you help them chart that way. So listening to your employees, number three on the blog, is key and one of the key ways to create a good culture of empowerment.

Pete Newsome 08:47
Yeah, and I think that is really as important to point out as anything else that we could talk about on the subject is it is not a one size fits all scenario.

Pete Newsome 09:00
And so what may be important to me in my career, or you in your career isn’t going to be the same as what’s important to that next person. And so, to your point, or your question about if you do this, could you encourage every employee to leave, you know, potentially if you’re not if every employee wants to go out and just chart their own course.

Pete Newsome 09:22
I think the goal I did not want to start a business I wanted to find a way to operate and operate freely within the organizations I worked for because they weren’t good companies that had good solutions. And they did business in a very good way. What they didn’t do was allow that freedom and flexibility to be at the individual level, and I get that right?

Pete Newsome 09:52
The companies were successful in their own right. But if you’re someone who wants to not do tomorrow, what you’re doing today, right and the day after, and the day after that, you will crave and ultimately demand that empowerment.

Pete Newsome 10:11
So it really is about the individual, and I think to do it the best way possible as an organization is to be able to accommodate all of the above. I mean, that’s what I strive to do.

Ricky Baez 10:26
So, in your opinion, why do you think some leaders have a hard time empowering their employees? I know my assumption, but I want to hear what you think about it.

Pete Newsome 10:38
Well, it’s two things for me, I think. And these aren’t necessarily unfounded either, right? So one is giving up control. And that’s just a hard thing for many people in many situations. And the other is worrying that things aren’t going to be done right.

Pete Newsome 10:56
You know, the old adage, if you want something done, do it yourself. And that is, like I said, both of those things probably won’t be done right all the time in, but that is necessary, you can’t have one without the other, you have to allow people to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. Take ownership of those mistakes, right?

Pete Newsome 11:19
I mean, listen, if I look back on my professional success, it’s paired with professional failures along the way.

Ricky Baez 11:29
That’s a good point.

Pete Newsome 11:30
Not intentionally, but inevitably, you know, I will do things knowing there’s a decent chance it won’t work. And that’s okay, I’m not afraid to do that. And I want employees to not be afraid to do that either. Take a chance, do something no one else has done before. That’s how innovation benefits the organization, not by doing the same thing that we’ve always done.

Pete Newsome 11:57
And that’s really, sort of the lid that I felt was put on me, as an employee of my previous companies where, hey, look, we don’t want you going outside of the lines, right? We don’t want you to leave this box, we want you to do the best job you can do within the structure that’s already in place. And I reject that idea entirely.

Pete Newsome 12:18
Because I want to do things no one else has done before, and I want our employees to do that, too. Now back to the point from a few minutes ago, not everyone wants that. So you set the stage for it to happen but don’t require it either. That’s what I think is the best middle ground.

Ricky Baez 12:38
Well, what you just said is key, because, you know, it’s if a leader out there has a hard time letting go of those reins. And at the end of the day, it’s all about the T word trust, right? Because they need to be able to trust their employees to do what they need to do to move that needle from A to B. But again, listening to your employees goes back to that number three.

Ricky Baez 13:01
For those employees who do want to do bigger things, give them that flexibility to do so. But at the same time, if they mess up, make it clear that it’s okay to screw up and take a calculated risk. Calculated risk is the key phrase here, right? Not just any risk, you want your employees to be able to analyze, what is the percentage, what is the risk factor, if we go this route that route, and as long as you get a formula to make sure you minimize that risk, but still risky.

Ricky Baez 13:33
And then create an as a leader create an environment that when they mess up, let’s learn from this. Let’s figure out what we are doing going forward. If you create that environment, that is your first step in creating a team of empowered employees who will move mountains for you. And trust me, it works. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it.

Pete Newsome 13:50
Yeah, I mean, it’s taking ownership, right? And that doesn’t mean doing something without regard for what happens if it goes wrong. So when I think about taking risks, knowing that whatever you’re doing may not work out. You’ve thought through that scenario, right? You understand that if you’re gonna spend money on a project to see if there’s, if it’s effective, and there’s a return on the investment, you’ve thought through that there may not be.

Pete Newsome 14:23
You’ve deemed that an acceptable risk. So that’s a good point to make. This is not giving carte blanche to do anything and everything you want to do. It’s allowing or encouraging a sense of ownership, and as an owner in anything, you’re going to take extra care of whatever it is you’re doing, right if you feel like you have ownership versus feeling like you’re just an employee who doesn’t matter.

Pete Newsome 14:49
It’s night and day and how you approach anything and everything you do. Why do you think it’s hard for companies to grant this sense of empowerment?

Ricky Baez 14:59
I think it is that. I think it is the lack of trust, so I’ll go deeper, the lack of trust because they don’t believe whatever it is that needs to be done is going to be done in their way. In their own way. Here’s the best way I can describe it. Have you ever seen a movie after reading the book of the movie? So you read a book first, and then the movie comes out later? Have you been in that situation?

Pete Newsome 15:28
Many times. Yes.

Ricky Baez 15:30
So that happens to me quite a bit, right? Because I, I see them, I read the book, then I see the movie in the movies horrible, just horrible. And the reason the movie is horrible is that when I’m reading the book, I make up in my mind what it is that I am reading versus in the movie, right? You’re seeing the director’s rendition of that, which could be different than yours.

Ricky Baez 15:54
And I’m saying that because your expectations could be different, right? So as a leader, you can have different expectations of what your employees have.

Ricky Baez 16:04
But then again, if you have a hard time doing that piece there, Pete, then you’re wasting your money and having that specific employee on your payroll because you’re paying for something to be done. But then you still have your hands to have it go your way to every detail. You’re completely eroding any return on investment you get from that person’s talent payroll.

Pete Newsome 16:25
That’s right. That’s right. And it’s an important thing for businesses to overcome. We list out a couple of reasons why or how to implement this in your workplace. So let’s go through those quickly. We’ve talked about number three quite a bit, I think we’ve touched on almost all of these. But the first thing is it has to start at the top.

Pete Newsome 16:48
So I think we’ve made that pretty clear. Harder, easier to do at a smaller organization, right, as a company grows and scales, it becomes increasingly difficult. But in any scenario, I think the leader at the top has to set the tone and say yes, this is something we encourage and support. And we want our employees to feel empowered, and you have to mean it.

Ricky Baez 17:14
That’s right. And number two, number two is embracing transparency. So part of empowering employees, really, revolves around creating an environment, right, where employees are free to speak their minds, positively or negatively. Of course, there has to be some professionalism and some tact, but the leader needs to be ready to hear some things that he or she may not want to hear about the organization.

Ricky Baez 17:39
And that transparency is key to ensuring employees feel safe and giving the leader good news equally as bad news. And that’s really crucial for the leader to really understand.

Pete Newsome 17:52
I think it’s a difficult thing for employees to do. Over the years, I’ve often said I’m the last to know things. When an employee has left you to know, in we’ve done an exit interview, and we found out they’ve held on to feelings or thoughts that we wish they had shared, I’ve realized how hard it is or how it’s so much easier said than done, to ask an employee to be open and honest in their feedback.

Pete Newsome 18:26
Because I think there’s a lack of inherent lack of trust that there won’t be a penalty if you share the things that you don’t like now, as an employee, you also have to be willing, and you have to accept that not everything you suggest and recommend will be accepted and the company can’t necessarily do it. But there shouldn’t be a penalty for transparency.

Pete Newsome 18:54
And it’s something that I try to remind our team of as often as possible. But even when I do, I have to acknowledge I don’t, not everyone’s going to trust that it’s safe to do. But I will tell you that I don’t know that this is unique for me as a leader or that everyone in my situation would feel this way.

Pete Newsome 19:15
But I want to know anything and everything that would help the business and if someone doesn’t like something or doesn’t understand why we are doing something or has an issue of any kind. We want to we don’t want people sitting on that. So it’s a really important thing to have. But it’s much easier said than done.

Pete Newsome 19:38
And even though I want transparency as much as anything, I still don’t know that we have it to the degree that I’d like, and I don’t know that we ever will.

Ricky Baez 19:58
It is much easier said than done because we could talk about it all day. But when it’s your company, when it’s your project, to hand over those reins. I’m gonna acknowledge here it is difficult to do. But that’s the discipline that leaders need to have.

Pete Newsome 20:05
You know another one I want to point out on this list is it’s important to me as meaning to me personally is holding employees accountable. And it sounds like it could be contradictory from what we were talking about a few minutes ago in terms of creating space for freedom and the ability to take risks and to fail.

Pete Newsome 20:30
That ownership part comes back into play here because if the employee feels accountable, then they’re going to step up to the plate, or so that is, I want our team, and I think any leader should want their team to feel accountable for the organization’s success. And because if you don’t feel that way, well, then why would you care? Why would you try? I think it’s an important component of empowerment as a whole.

Ricky Baez 21:01
And you know, I learned this long ago, Pete, what gets measured gets done, right? So you have to attach metrics to everything you do. And then that’s a motivating factor to write especially, you get to see who you go get as are, who your middle-of-the-road people are, and who are the people who may need a little bit more motivation. So it’s really a good idea to have that accountability piece on there.

Ricky Baez 21:24
Because now Now let’s take a little bit deeper dive into this piece. Now, I know we’re talking about how to be positive and then how to empower employees, this a piece about employee accountability that I really want to take a deep dive into.

Ricky Baez 21:38
And that is when things don’t go your way, when employees don’t meet the minimum standards that they’re supposed to have, you know, then that’s when the backbone has to come out of the people skills have to come from the leader to guide and coach that employee to where he or she needs to be, right. That’s part of that accountability, it’s positive and negative as well. So don’t just go for positive accountability.

Ricky Baez 22:02
And anybody there’s the negative piece on there also that needs to be addressed. Because here’s what’s gonna happen. If the employees are not held accountable for their performance, then your rock stars will notice that, right? And then they’re gonna say, well, it’s the, if they can get away with it, then I can get away with it. And then what’s gonna happen is your rock stars aren’t going to leave, and the people who do just enough not to get fired or gonna stick around.

Pete Newsome 22:28
No, it’s not. Accountability and transparency go hand in hand, by the way, to understand the why behind anything that you’re doing. And I don’t just mean the purpose of why the business exists. But why policies exist, why different financial considerations are made, you know, maybe in a sales organization, it’s about commission structure, right? Why it exists in a certain way?

Pete Newsome 23:01
Well, the company should explain that should be true, if you expect transparency from your employees, you have to be transparent. First, if you expect accountability from your employees, you must be accountable to the organization. So it really does flow Both ways are it’s necessary to flow both ways for empowerment to happen.

Ricky Baez 23:23
And Pete, another one on this list that really hits me at home is number four, make space for creative work. And let me tell you why. Have you heard the story about Three M? The company Three M? Yes. It’s about the sticky notes. Yeah. Okay. So maybe people may not know the story back in the day-long time ago, a long time ago, three M, the company that makes tapes and all these things, leadership, decided that 20% of all of their engineers, all of their employees, were scheduled to one 20% is dedicated to working on a project whatever project they want for the organization.

Ricky Baez 24:02
They don’t care what it was work on something that you think you can improve 20% of your work week, 20% of your Work Month is dedicated to a personal project. So that went around for about two or three years, and one engineer came up with a brilliant idea for taking notes.

Ricky Baez 24:19
So that is how sticky notes were invented. Right? It wasn’t a research and development team that said, let’s figure out what people want. No, a leader said, I want you to use your talents for whatever it is you want. That’s going to benefit the organization. So that’s number four, make space for creative work, which goes in line with what I just saw here.

Ricky Baez 24:43
Number six, prioritize a company culture. So going back to Three M, they said we’re gonna give you the space for creative work 20% of your work week, but whatever you put together, it has to be in line with the company culture, and it was there I still I have on my desk over there a bunch of sticky notes that I use every day.

Ricky Baez 25:05
And I love the fact that the reason I get to use them has made my life so much easier for the past 20 years that I’ve been in HR is because a company said, hey, work on something, whatever it is you want for 20% of your work week, and boom that came out of it. So good things can come from just giving employees the space to be creative.

Pete Newsome 25:22
And it was all about sticky notes. I love it.

Ricky Baez 25:26
That’s right. That’s right.

Pete Newsome 25:27
You never know what that great, that next great idea will be. That’s for sure. Just to keep this rolling. So other important things on this list are focusing on focusing on technology. You’ve got to give your employees the tools in order if you’re going to going to encourage them to be innovative, to be creative, to work on new and special, unique projects, we gotta give them the ability to be successful in doing it.

Pete Newsome 25:59
Don’t look past the importance and value of technology, especially in the world that we’re living in now changes rapidly. It’s constantly evolving, and you have to stay in touch, or you’re going to get left behind.

Ricky Baez 26:13
And, 4 Corner Resources is a perfect example. When I started consulting, I was trying to figure out a way how to, you know, connect with all of my clients. And then Dana told me, hey, we’re using Slack now. And I’m like, Slack, what is slack? And then she told me all about it. I’m like, I know I am a Slack-a-holic. If that’s even a word Slack. They’re owned by Microsoft, I need to emphasize.

Pete Newsome 26:38
So you were introduced to it by one of the employees here.

Ricky Baez 26:43
So yeah, because you guys started using it. And I’m like, and then next, Pete, this is how boring I am. And I go to bed watching YouTube. When I find something that interests me. I go to bed at night watching YouTube videos as somebody who reviewed them for tips and tricks. So yeah, my YouTube search history, how to cook a steak, and how to use Slack. That’s what you find.

Pete Newsome 27:04
Maybe you can watch this video next then.

Ricky Baez 27:10
So yes, investing in technology is crucial. And, man, we cannot forget about the number eight, focusing on the why. I cannot tell you how many times this has happened to me, Pete, where I guess so invested in an idea, I get so invested in the goal that sometimes me trying to meet that goal. I forget why the goal exists.

Ricky Baez 27:35
And then I veer off from it. Candidly, in this conversation, we started talking about this, and we ended up talking about Stig, it almost happened. Almost happened. But we got to focus on why we have this conversation on empowerment.

Ricky Baez 27:48
So I gotta remember that because I almost brought up steak again. So we got to focus on why we’re doing something. So yes, empowerment is important. But if you focus on the why you will always keep your employees on track what you’re keeping them accountable.

Pete Newsome 28:01
There you go. I like it.

Pete Newsome 28:02
And I think that’s a great way to end. We have some great tips within this blog as well on things you can do to implement a culture of empowerment.

Pete Newsome 28:15
So if you’re seeing this on YouTube or listening, go to the blog where you can find it. And thanks for listening today.

Pete Newsome 28:23
Ricky, thanks for your input.

Ricky Baez 28:25
Thank you, sir. Really appreciate it. Have an amazing weekend.

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