Management Series: Empowerment

I’ve been a software engineer for a couple of decades and some change. For almost half that time I’ve been either a manager, executive, or a founder. I’ve learned a few lessons in this time and today want to talk about empowerment. 

Empowerment is an important idea to understand as a manager. You won’t always be the smartest person in the room, so you need to empower the people around you, and you need to listen to them. If you think you’re more comfortable being the smartest person in the room, you shouldn’t be in tech. You can be a “T” shaped engineer and manager, but you can’t know everything.

Back to empowerment – Why?

Empowered engineers are more committed and are more likely to be satisfied with their work. Engineers who are empowered are also more likely to come up with creative solutions to problems.  They’re also able to make decisions and take action without the need for constant approval or oversight, leading to more fruitful and impactful projects. 

How do you foster an environment of empowerment? 

  1. Give autonomy: Allow engineers to make decisions about their work and give them the freedom to choose the tools and technologies they want to use. (Also encourage engineers to work together to make tool/tech decisions. Don’t be too top-down about these).
  2. Provide them with resources: Make sure they have what they need to do their job effectively (training, development environments, and the latest tools and technologies). 
  3. Encourage continuous learning: Encourage them to learn new skills and tech by providing opportunities for training and development (conferences, workshops, and online courses).
  4. Foster a culture of collaboration: Encourage engineers to work together and to share ideas. Also, create an environment where they feel comfortable asking for help when needed.
  5. Recognize and reward contributions: Acknowledge the work of engineers and recognize their contributions to the organization. 
  6. Give them a real voice: Encourage engineers to speak up and share their ideas and concerns (regular meetings, hackathons, and any other opportunities that may require collaboration). Pull it out of them if you have to, and make sure to show your appreciation once they find their voice. It’ll encourage them to keep talking/sharing. Let them know they have a safe space to continue sharing and innovating. 

What am I missing? I only gave a few examples, but I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Draw from your own experiences as either a manager OR an engineer. I love hearing perspectives from both sides.