People often ask me how I come up with topics for conference sessions. Honestly, my whole job is to figure out how to improve our company – to identify and work on areas where we struggle. And that’s what I talk about at conferences, because pretty much all the firms in our industry have the same pain points and the same areas where they need to improve.

Empowerment was an obvious goal for us. We’re a small company and, while we tell everyone they can take a leadership role at any time on any project, words just aren’t enough. We need to make sure that every single person feels like they have the support they need to try new things, challenge themselves, and expand their areas of expertise and authority.

So I read around 50 articles about empowering employees. They said pretty much what you’d expect. You need to:

  • Provide opportunities for real leadership, not just pass off work.
  • Give employees authority and trust – it’s not really empowering to have to ask permission.
  • Get out of the way – your people can’t grow with you micromanaging every step.
  • Let them fail – it’s pretty tough to learn without making mistakes.
  • Support them – give positive reinforcement when employees take ownership and initiative.

All of that is great advice and 100% necessary for employee empowerment, but it felt a little bit superficial. So I did some more digging. After attacking loads of books and research papers, I found what I was looking for – the fundamentals that employees need to feel like they can make a difference.

Give Employees Significance

We build websites, we’re not saving people’s lives. And we don’t need to be. Giving employees significance just means taking the time to explain why you are doing the work that you’re doing. This is as simple as explaining how their work contributes to the big picture of the project or the company, or just telling them why that landing page needs to be up by Thursday. People understandably want to know that there is a point to the effort they are putting in.

Give Employees Information

This is a huge one. Employees need to make decisions that are consistent with the company/project’s priorities and values. They can’t do that if they don’t know what those values are. People must know what is important in order to do what is important. We are very guilty of trying to save people’s time by only giving them the info they need to do their existing work. That’s a great way to make sure that people can’t possibly contribute outside of their own existing work.

Give Employees a Real Boss / Manager / Mentor / Guide

Yes, you need to trust your employees in order to empower them. But they need to trust you, too. You are asking them to take a risk, to put themselves out there, to challenge themselves instead of staying safely in their little boxes. They just won’t do it unless they trust you. And to trust you, they have to know you.

What was it like when you took a leadership role for the first time? What mistakes did you make? What lessons did you learn? Be real with your people. Share your stories. Help them understand that you get what they are taking on. Prove that they can trust you to be there when they have questions, are struggling, or have failed miserably and need a safety net.

Do NOT Frustrate Your Employees

The real and actual death of empowerment is frustration. Don’t hand over projects that lack critical resources or support. Empowered employees feel deep ownership of their work. They are the ones who will be most frustrated when tasked with goals that are unachievable. Delegating failure is a guaranteed way to disempower your team.



Ultimately, it takes a great deal of commitment and awareness to ensure that your team feels they can take ownership of their work. For more guidance on empowering your employees, you can check out the recording of my session on Youtube. We had a bit of a technical glitch getting started, so I ended up having to talk REALLY fast, but my full presentation with speaker’s notes is also available.

About the Author
Hannah Del Porto
Hannah runs the day-to-day operations of the Brick Factory. She manages the company's human resources, ensures the quality and efficiency of our workflow/work and oversees the firm's finances. She can do 75 push-ups. In a row.