The Cultural Holy Grail: Empowered Employees

Empowering employees is crucial for transforming performance of hourly employees.  The manager who trusts their hourly employees gives them leverage and responsibility in their jobs.  And it is so easy to do for hourly employees.  Instead of detailing and scripting every job duty for hourly employees, give them expectations and performance goals.  Then, let your employees determine how to perform to meet those expectations.  

Nordstrom’s customer service thrives because of a culture of empowerment. As a result, this high-end retail store outcompetes every other retail store in customer service. The stories of Nordstrom’s customer service are legendary.  

A salesperson drove 50 miles to hand-deliver a pair of shoes to a customer.  Another salesperson scoured the floor for a customer’s lost ring even emptying vacuum bags from the janitors. If you are a shopper of Nordstrom, you may have encountered a sales person that became your own personal shopper, helping you find merchandise and emailing you personally about upcoming sales or items.

And how does Nordstrom’s empower its employees?  It’s simple.  Their employee handbook is not many pages of dry policy.  Instead, it’s not a book at all, but one card with one rule:  

“Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service.  Set both your personal and professional goals high.  We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them so our employee handbook is very simple.  We have only one rule… Use good judgment in all situations”.

In this section, there are tips to empower employees by effectively communicating your vision, holding employees accountable, and career development tips for small businesses.


Communicate Vision to your employees

A 2015 Gallup Study on the “State of the American Manager” concluded that management style can contribute up to a 70% increase in performance from employees based upon management style.  According to this study, effective managers:

  1. Communicate expectations
  2. Paint a picture of success for the employee in their role
  3. Demonstrate openness and approachability
  4. Involve employees in the success of the business


Communicate expectations and involve employees in the success of the business by discussing business results with all employees regularly.  This gives your employees a deeper sense of purpose in their day-to-day job duties.

Hold monthly or quarterly meetings with all employees where you share how the business hit its targets.  Were sales up or down?  Did you receive positive or negative customer reviews?  How did your business deliver on quality, cleanliness, etc?


Hold Employees Accountable

Once expectations have been communicated, hold employees accountable for reaching them.   Accountability is a form of empowerment: it shows that every employee is responsible for achieving success.  This helps to paint a clear picture of how their role, however compartmentalized, adds up to the success of the business overall.  

Instead of reviewing performance annually for hourly employees, try more frequent one-on-one meetings.  This allows you to not only hold employees accountable but allows you to do so in a more open and approachable manner.  This style is far more motivating than an annual review.  Employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not hold regular meetings with them.  These meetings don’t need to be long and overdone.  Here’s an example of a quick meeting that includes all critical elements.


  1. How has work been going this week/month?
  2. Do you have any feedback for me about the business or my management style?
  3. I noticed that you did a great job when you [example of good performance]
  4. Next month instead of [example of poor performance] try [example of good performance]


This meeting structure can have better results than off-the-cuff criticism.  For example, many busy managers may make a quick and stern comment about tardiness saying “you were late frequently this week”.  Instead, have a quick one-on-one.  Ask the employee if they have been having any issues causing lateness.  If not, ask if the employee has any feedback for you about how work has been going and anything you can do to help the employee.  After listening to any concerns or needs the employee has, follow up with a performance discussion.  “I noticed this week that you anticipated the customers’ needs when you helped the mom with a toddler find what she was looking for in the store.  Next week please be sure to get to work on time each day so operations are organized before customers arrive.”

The time invested in these meetings will reap rewards as you have decreased turnover and improved performance from employees who feel autonomy and responsibility in their work.



Employees need a goal to strive for.  In small businesses, once an employee hits the top, be brave and help that employee achieve the next step outside of your business.  Although you may lose your employee, they will likely work harder and longer for you because you invested in them and helped them on their way.  Although it is painful and hard to replace an employee after training has made them more valuable to your business, you will be rewarded with less employee turnover and improved performance in the long-run. When you commit to employees, they commit to you.  

With hourly employees, find out what their goals are, and make those goals part of their development plan even if it doesn’t relate to your business.  Communicate to your employees that when they leave your employment, you hope it is because you helped them get there.  

Although it seems counter-intuitive, this strategy has helped Chick-Fil-A achieve a turnover rate of hourly employees at 60% compared with an industry average of 107%.   At Chick-Fil-A managers are trained that it is their responsibility to “steward” employees — whether that is moving up within their business or achieving the next step outside of their business.  Even though managers help great employees find jobs at other companies, they are rewarded with employees staying at their company longer than if they did not help them develop.



“Before you are a leader success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”  — Jack Welch.

For small business owners and managers, you have the ability to directly connect with almost 100% of your staff.  You have the gift of being able to give your employees what large corporations cannot:  access to the most senior employees, ability to see direct results of hard work on the business, and ability to see the impact of their work on customers and the business.  Small businesses are better situated to understand their employees’ needs and develop programs that directly impact them from the top.  As a result, small businesses have the ability to win against large corporate competitors in turnover and customer service.  

The Homebase Guide to Creating a Great Team Culture

In the Homebase Guide to Creating a Great Team Culture, we cover:​

1. Introduction & Team Culture Quiz
2. Culture Fundamentals: Respect and Appreciate your Employees
3. Having a Great Culture: Improve Teamwork

4. The Cultural Holy Grail: Empowered Employees

5. Want to Reduce Turnover Among Your Employees? Try Advanced Scheduling
6. My Employees Are Fighting: How to Manage Conflict in a Small Business
7. Career Development for Hourly Employees When There is No Room for Growth

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