Set them free

In the mid to late 90’s we started to eagerly study companies that were outstanding at creating employee engagement, which lead to customer loyalty, which lead to financial payback – which could be invested back into employees.

High on that list were for example the Ritz-Carlton hotel group and the low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines.

A lot can be said about companies that have been successful at this.

One common denominator that it often comes down to is to EMPOWER your employees. This can sound like just a buzzword but it’s a necessity to release people’s ability to make a difference, to not unnecessarily weigh them down with processes and procedures.


As Daniel H Pink so brilliantly outlined in his book ‘DRIVE: The surprising truth about what motivates us’, intrinsic motivation (internally driven motivation, as opposed to external ‘carrot and stick’ motivation) is among a couple of other factors driven by autonomy.

And this makes a lot of sense. When we can act with a sense of autonomy we feel in control of our situation, we feel empowered and spurred on to do our very best. We have been trusted to take responsibility, come up with solutions and this inspires to step forward and do our best.

No one wants to be told what to do. This is as true for children as adults. We want to be given the freedom to make the right choices. When we are trusted, that’s what happens.


We recently heard a brilliant story of customer care from Southwest Airlines. A woman was on a plane about to take off when it turned around, went back to the gate where she was asked to disembark the plane and and go talk to the information desk. When she got there she was told that her son (in another city than the one she was in or the one she was going to) had been in an accident and was in hospital. Needless to say this was a very distressing message to get. But she was very grateful for the support the airline gave her. They certainly didn’t need to but they got her onto a plane to take her to where her son was, they called her afterwards to check on how her son was doing. Seriously, wow!

This was clearly not just someone following procedures, this was the result of a person (or several people) thinking for themselves about trying to help a customer who was thrown into a difficult situation. They were empowered to do what was right. Talk about excellent customer experience.


Jobs are increasingly knowledge jobs, where we are hired to think for a living, there is not just one way of doing things so our ability to think critically and creatively is a necessity. And there is no way we can have processes and procedures for every single possible scenario we may encounter.

This is why we must create a culture of empowerment where each person is given the the freedom to perform the job the best way they can. We must know and trust people to do the right thing.


Add to that the fact that more people are working remotely than ever before. Technology has enabled us to allow for work to be done from anywhere and at any time. Some people work best early in the day, some later in the day. Assuming the job is not time constrained for service hours for example, then why shouldn’t we help everyone do their best job their way.


A small word of caution though – in a remote workplace in particular, empowerment mustn’t slip into a sense of abandonment. With greater empowerment, our conversations with our team and team members can and need to focus more on knowledge and experience exchange, and creating new solutions that help fulfil our shared purpose.

Simply put, we just can’t afford to not empower those we work with. We need their motivation, their inspiration, their ideas and creativity – and their drive to do the right thing.

We’ll continue exploring this topic in the April issue of IMPACT, so stay tuned!

Author: Mandy and Elisabet

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