Forget Empowerment! What You Need Are Self-Directed Employees

Remember when the latest buzzword was (drum roll, please) empowerment?

The premise was that employees who were empowered would be more committed to successful outcomes because they had the ability to make decisions, commit resources, own the decision, etc. As someone was empowered, they also became more accountable for results.

What’s wrong with empowerment? Plenty! What if you empower someone who is not capable of handling the responsibility? Or someone who intends the right things, but makes ineffective choices in working towards objectives? Or someone who intentionally makes bad decisions?

In other words, empowerment potentially fails because of a lack of specific expectations for outcomes and the unintentional (or intentional) ineffective execution towards the objective.

What’s needed instead of empowerment is a solid team of self-directed employees. Self-directed employees consistently make correct decisions in their day-to-day activities, they make few mistakes in execution or judgment, and they need only general supervision in order to deliver excellent results. They correctly assess what to do, and then they do it.

Is it possible to assemble a staff of this type of employee? Absolutely…it will take lots of planning and solid management to do, but the rewards are enormous.

Here are five tips for developing a self-directed staff, most of them in the form of questions to ask about your organization. We’ll discuss some of these concepts in more depth in future posts.

1. Hire the Right People. This one is pretty obvious, right? As author Jim Collins is fond of saying, “get the right people on the bus and either get them in the right seat or get them off the bus.” When was the last time you had a deep evaluation of your talent selection processes? Do your job descriptions spec out the ideal candidate’s critical thinking, relating and striving talents in addition to the core competencies (skills), experience and education? Do you use assessments to help you identify good team and cultural fit? Do you utilize a board interview process?

2. Onboard With Excellence. Onboarding is the process of bringing a new employee into the organization and helping them get up to full speed while removing common obstacles to rapid growth. Does your organization have a written onboarding plan to hand to every new hire that outlines his or her first few months on the job? Is every hour of their first few months clearly spec’d out, with outcomes for each part of their onboarding? Is the employee gaining exposure to key senior staff and important functions with whom they may interface?

3. Clearly Defined and Visible Expectations. Unless people clearly understand the specific desired outcomes of their work, it is likely that people will choose their own interpretation of what those objectives mean. What is your process for setting clear expectations? Do employees know why they are asked to meet the expectations and the impact on the organization, its customers and employees when expectations are met? Do they know how and when progress will be measured?

4. Alignment Around KPIs. KPIs – key performance indicators – are the five or six measurements that reflect the health of your organization. Are KPIs part of every manager’s regular meetings with staff? Are KPIs part of your performance evaluation process? Are KPIs embedded in the organization’s proposed business plans? If I were to go to any employee in your organization and ask him or her what he or she is working on, could clearly they tell me how their work impacts the company’s KPIs?

5. Create a Coaching Culture. Teaching is equipping people with new knowledge and skills, while coaching is helping people to master skills, talents and knowledge. Many organizations have decent teaching approaches; fewer have created a culture of coaching people to achieve excellence. Do supervisors regularly ask employees what is going well about what they are working on, and what isn’t going as well as expected? Are they asked what they have learned about the process, and what they think we could improve? Are there several hours of one-on-one coaching to support every hour of teaching?

These five areas won’t singlehandedly create a culture of self-directedness, but they will certainly allow your organization to realize significant improvement. Supervisors and managers who create self-directed staff eliminate perhaps 25% of their current workload (which is spent today with underperforming employees).

Boyer Management Group works with employers and job seekers alike to help both become more successful. For employers, we offer world-class talent acquisition and onboarding tools, training and programs, including management/leadership development training, as well as programs for new managers and supervisors. For job seekers, we offer the world’s first assessment to measure an individual’s knowledge and awareness of current and emerging career search best practices, along with the educational programs to support higher ed curriculum, career coaches and individual job seekers. To find out more, please visit us at, email us at, or
call us at 215-942-0982.


Latest Leadership Posts


Seven Ways to Convince a Committee Continue Reading


You Got a Job Offer! Now What? Continue Reading


Counterintuitive Life-Changing Principles, Part 5 Continue Reading