Set Boundaries for an Empowered Workforce

Setting boundaries to help empower people might sound like a contradiction. When managed correctly, though, well placed boundaries can ensure a strong culture of empowerment for your entire company.

I’ve often said that a river without banks is a large puddle. If you empower people by setting them loose without any direction, they can lose momentum and focus—or, even worse, they can make costly mistakes or put a project at risk. Like the banks of a river, properly set boundaries will channel energy in the right direction so that people can take on more responsibility as they grow and develop.

The key to setting boundaries is to ensure people know the areas where they can be autonomous and responsible rather than focusing on things they are not permitted to do. Boundaries are based on each person’s skill level and are meant to help the person understand how their goals align with the overall vision and goals of the organization. Helping people see how their work fits into the big picture allows them to become peak performers.

It is also important for managers to explain the decision making process in an empowered culture. Some people think being empowered means they get to make all the decisions. They could be disappointed when the manager continues to make strategic decisions and leaves only some operational decisions to them. And they might hesitate to make decisions at all when they realize they will be held accountable for the results—both good and bad.

Yes, empowerment means people have the freedom to act, but it also means they are accountable for results. The right balance is to have managers continue making strategic decisions and get team members involved in making more operational decisions as they become more comfortable with assuming the potential risks involved. As people gradually accept more responsibility for decisions and consequences, managers can pull back on their involvement.

It takes a little time in the beginning for managers to establish boundaries for team members, but this investment has a huge payoff. The worst thing a manager can do is to send people off on their own with no clear direction and then punish them when they make mistakes. Don’t fall into that trap. Establish clear boundaries that will empower people to make decisions, take initiative, act like owners, and stay on track to reach both personal and organizational goals.