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Jun 28, 2019

Approx. 8 min. read

Ryan Foland on Employee Empowerment: Definition & Best Practices

The secret to employee engagement is not benefits or perks but employee empowerment.


The secret to employee engagement is not benefits or perks but employee empowerment.

Retaining talent is one of the HR Managers’ top priorities. Recruiting, onboarding and developing your employees requires effort and resources and you don’t want to see all these efforts fade away when your best employees leave your company.

So, what are the reasons why your employees want to stay with your business?

Your employees are not that much interested in the benefits and perks you offer. Instead, employees who stick around and want to contribute to your business success are the ones who have the opportunity to take ownership over their work.

Obviously, your employees don’t make the final call when it comes to decision-making that affects the business, but they have a certain degree of autonomy for decision-making that affects their tasks, their ideas are taken into account, and they are encouraged to develop their thought leadership.

Now, the question is: how to truly empower employees in the workplace?

We had a chat on that topic with Ryan Foland, global keynote speaker and co-founder of InfluenceTree, a personal branding accelerator that helps people to grow their personal brand.

In this interview, Ryan shares his best practices for supporting employees’ professional growth and creating a positive work environment:

Hi Ryan, can you tell us why empowering employees in the workplace is more important than ever?

Empowering employees is more important than ever because people want to do business with people. A corporate brand is faceless. Historically, the CEO or President may serve as the face of the company, but they are less trusted than employees.

In a world where most people start their customer journey on the Internet to check out reviews, do research, or compare prices, companies have to make sure that their digital presence reflects the brand that they want to be known for.

💡 Interested in learning more about employee empowerment? Feel free to watch the webinar Smarp and Ryan have co-hosted last week!

If companies only rely on their marketing departments to spread their brand messages and content, they're missing a huge part of the equation.

The part of the equation they are missing comes from their employees: employees that love their job and are passionate about the company they’re working for can take their marketing strategy to the next level by spreading the word about their passion for the brand.

Related: 5 Ways Employee Advocacy Can Boost Your Marketing Strategy

I know some corporate leaders who see employee empowerment as unnecessary because their businesses already have well-established brands.

Something Leonard Kim and I talk about in our new book Ditch the Act, is the argument that in today's digital environment, corporate brands are made up of the individual personal brands of the employees who work there.

best practices for empowering employees

When you support employee development beyond helping them get better at doing their job, you develop the employee as someone who can be a better leader.

When you support and empower an employee, it creates loyalty and trust between that employee and the organization.

When done right, employee empowerment will help your employees fall in love with your company. As a result, they’ll spread the word about your business!

According to you, what does it take to truly empower employees?

True empowerment is not adding a game room or letting your dog visit the office. It's letting people know that it's okay for them to be themselves at work. It's more than professional development workshops on soft skills, it's letting employees showcase their expertise beyond the company walls.

Companies that let their employees be more than just a job title, and encourage them to be their best selves, and their whole selves, will have happier employees on board, employees who are more productive, and who are more likely to share about their company and its products on their own personal social media accounts.

When you empower your employees, you enable them to become brand ambassadors. Your company and its message can reach further than your traditional paid advertising methods. Your products can be showcased at dinner tables and in households of employees amongst their friends and family.

When people are empowered to be themselves, they feel valued. And when employees feel valued, they work harder and enjoy their job even more.

Related: Employee Empowerment: Where to Start and How to Do It Right

Empowering employees means treating people more than just human resources. In other words, it means understanding that employees have lives outside of work and face both the ups and downs that life naturally brings.

Encouraging employees to ditch the act will create a culture of transparency and vulnerability, allowing employees to get to know each other for who they really are, and that creates real connections as opposed to surface-level work relationships.

What are your top 5 best practices for building a company culture where employees are truly empowered?

1. Listening

Employees feel empowered when they feel they are listened to. It's a simple piece of advice that is not always followed by companies in North America.

I suggest that employers make sure to ask questions about employee goals aspirations and long-term visions in order to truly understand who that employee is and the person that they want to become.

As a manager, when you know what your employees’ goals are, you can  find opportunities to help them gain the skills and experience they need to work towards their goals.

Related: The Importance of Knowing Your Employees

When people achieve their own personal goals as a result of what’s happening in the workplace, it creates a culture of personal growth which then translates into professional development, which then can lead to company growth.

2. A focus on the problems being solved

Job titles can be limiting, and I encourage employers to work with employees to help identify the specific problems they can solve.

When you are able to clearly identify the problems that an employee can solve, it empowers the employee to better understand their position in the overarching strategy of the company as a whole.

In my new book, Ditch the Act, I also breakdown my 3-1-3 method, which helps to identify the problem that you solve. It is a formula gives them ownership about how their day-to-day activities impact the overall company.

Being clear on the problems that your employees are solving helps them to feel like they are truly making a difference and that they are a key part of the larger organization

Check out this video to know more about Ryan's 3-1-3 method: 


3. Vulnerability

I encourage managers and leaders to lead by example when it comes to being vulnerable. If employees feel like they can ditch the act and are able to share not only what's going well but also what's going wrong, it creates a sense of trust.

Some managers say they have an open door policy, but still keep their door shut.

Managers who only share what is going right miss a key opportunity to truly connect with their employees. Create a culture where when people ask you how you're doing, you feel comfortable with sharing how you actually feel.

The goal of an employee should not to be perfect, no one's perfect. But when we pretend to be perfect then we don't bring our true selves to work and we miss out on opportunities to connect with other employees about not only the ups, but also the downs that we all experience.

When you create a culture that allows people to share their feelings and be vulnerable, it opens up the opportunity to provide support and create a culture of true connection and authenticity.

4. Get out of the office!

There's a lot to be said about spending time with coworkers outside of the typical office environment.

For example, in addition to being the Managing Partner of InfluenceTree, I work in the office of the Vice Provost of Teaching & Learning at the University of California, Irvine, as a Communications Manager, and we organize team building activities such as bowling. Yes bowling. Once a year we have an opportunity to get together and have fun outside of the work environment during the summer.

Personally, I have been able to spend quality time with people that I wouldn't normally get to meet at these types of events, and it sparks what can become long-term relationships with other employees.

When you bring people outside of the office in an environment where they can truly be themselves, let down their guard and just have a little fun, you allow people to connect in ways where they can get to know each other for who they really are.

5. Focus on your employees’ strengths

 There's a lot of research behind the fact that it is better to build upon one's strengths than trying to fix their weaknesses.

A company that wants to create a culture of empowerment needs to understand that certain employees have strengths in certain areas of expertise, where they might have weaknesses in others.

employee empowerment and employee engagement

By allowing and helping employees to identify their strengths, you help them do their job and support your content marketing strategy.

For example, if you identify that one of your employees has great writing skills, consider asking them to write a guest post for your company LinkedIn. If an employee is comfortable with speaking at public events, consider giving them a chance to speak at a conference or an event your company is going to attend.

The more you focus on building a culture that encourages self-development, the more you encourage your employees to do what they do best. And when people do what they do best, they're more likely to enjoy their job.

Feeling inspired? You may want to take a look at our eBook "Building a Better Company with Internal Communications" where we share tips and best practices for keeping employees informed and engaged!

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Written by

Valène Jouany

Valène Jouany

Content Marketing Manager

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