'Yes Men' No More: 5 Tips to Grow Engaged and Empowered Employees

What you can do at a time when only 29 percent of employees are engaged in their organizations.

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By Chris Byers

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In most companies, the reign of the "yes man" (and woman) is over. Today, leaders want (and need) a highly engaged workforce empowered to ask questions, challenge the status quo and take ownership in their company's success.

Engaged employees, according to Dale Carnegie, are "enthusiastic about work, inspired and motivated by leadership, empowered to do their work their way and confident they can achieve excellence."

Related: Empowering Employees

Not only are employees who are empowered to take action and execute work independently happier and more fulfilled -- it's good for business, too. Companies with engaged employees outperform those without by an impressive 202 percent.

The bad news? A mere 29 percent of employees are truly engaged in their organization.

So, how can leaders cultivate high-performing teams who are empowered and motivated to take action on behalf of your brand? Here are five tips to help nurture this attitude in your own corporate culture.

1. Communicate a clear vision.

Employee engagement is one of those things that must be communicated from the top down. You and your executive team set the tone.

This can be a challenge for some leaders. Even with a solid internal communication structure in place, your employees don't have a back door to your innermost thoughts.

Keep them in the loop with regular communication, and reminders that proactive, strategic actions on behalf of the company are valued. In addition, make sure you and your staff are on the same page when it comes to the objectives, priorities and "pain points" for your company. Employees who "get" your core values and understand your future direction are armed to make consistent decisions and take action without a lot of hand holding.

2. Define roles and develop relationships.

Encouraging employee engagement can be a slippery slope. Leaders need to strike a careful balance to develop staff who are empowered to act independently, but still operate within the boundaries of their role.

Related: Tony Hsieh on Empowerment

Establish a clear reporting structure and make sure job tasks and categories are well defined. This not only prevents staff from doubling up on work, it can help avoid internal conflict, too.

Also, make an effort to encourage positive relationships within teams and departments -- especially between direct managers and their staff. Two-thirds of people report that their boss has had some kind of impact on their career -- and only half of those describe that impact as positive. Make sure your managers encourage engagement and independence, but know when to step in and offer support and guidance when it's needed.

3. Encourage proactive self-improvement.

In most industries, organizational training will take an employee only so far. Individuals should be encouraged to take control of their own career development -- and to champion their own value to the company.

Help staff create personalized paths to improvement that are strategic, and designed to benefit both the employee and your company as a whole. First, teach managers to help employees determine their signature benefit to the organization. Then, talk about ways they can put that unique skill or expertise to work. Provide budget and time for personal development, attendance at conferences and other enrichment activities that will develop the employee's strengths, as well as help him or her bone up on any areas in need of improvement.

4. Give employee the chance to fail -- and a safe place to land when they do.

Not all employees are risk-takers. Fortunately, the willingness to take risks can be taught -- or at least modeled.

First, stomp out micromanagement in your organization. If your employees feel as if they have to seek approval before making every decision, or if their day-to-day routine is filled with monitoring and correction, they'll never take initiative.

A manager shouldn't be a babysitter. Encourage every manager to be a mentor, and give employees opportunities to push out of their comfort zone. If employees fail, train your managers to treat those mistakes as teachable moments. Train your managers to help employees try again -- and to give them the tools and motivation to do so.

Related: How to Stop Micromanaging Your Team

5. Reward employees' efforts.

There's some disparity when it comes to the perception of praise in the workplace: 51 percent of managers believe they do a good job of recognizing employees for work done well. But only 17 percent of employees believe their managers appreciate their efforts.

Make sure your employees know their efforts don't go unnoticed. Incentivize big wins and achievements for staff. Offer a finder's fee for employees who generate new business leads that convert. Kick off a rewards program to celebrate client kudos. Take a handful of high achievers out to lunch each month, or give them a half-day off with pay. There are countless ways to show your appreciation (and to motivate your teams to go above-and-beyond in the future). Your employees will appreciate these action, and your company will benefit.

Related: 7 Ways to Boost Employee Morale

Chris Byers

CEO, Formstack

Chris Byers is the CEO of Formstack, an Indianapolis-based company offering an online form and data-collection platform. Prior to Formstack, Byers co-founded an international nonprofit that was built via remote relationships among partners in Europe, Africa and the United States.

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