Employee enablement
Management & Mindset

8 Ways to Go From Employee Engagement to Employee Enablement

Keeping employees engaged is a top priority for all managers and team leaders.

But, mere engagement will only get your team so far. In truth, it’s entirely possible for your employees to be engaged in their work—but still fall short of achieving their full potential. For your employees to truly do their best work, they need to be equipped appropriately.

This is where employee enablement comes in.

What is employee enablement, and how does it differ from employee engagement?

Employee enablement is the strategic and systematic practice of giving employees whatever they need to do their job to the best of their ability.

Overall, employee enablement takes engagement to the next level. Whereas fostering engagement is all about keeping employees on-task and maintaining productivity levels, enablement focuses on supercharging their efforts and ramping up productivity on an ongoing basis.

As you move past mere employee engagement and focus more on enablement, you’ll need to shift the way you set expectations for the members of your team. 

Instead of setting the bar based on the tools and resources your employees have on hand, you’ll now set the bar based on their knowledge and abilities—and will work to provide the resources they need to measure up accordingly.

It’s a shift from “Here’s what you need to do good work”, to “What do you need to do your best work?”. In this sense, it’s the employee who actually sets their own expectations—based, again, on what they know they’re capable of.

Related: Here’s the OKR Process We Created to Elevate Team Performance (+ a Free OKR Template)

It’s a shift from “Here’s what you need to do good work”, to “What do you need to do your best work?”

Why is employee enablement so important?

Enabling your employees to do their best work will undoubtedly have a positive impact on a variety of aspects of your organization:

Employee performance

Obviously, if your employees are able to do their best—and they follow through in doing so—their performance quality will skyrocket.

Thinking in terms of numbers, Gallup reports that ramping up engagement results in a 17% increase in employee productivity. Add full enablement to the equation, and this number can only grow higher.

As we’ll discuss, this increase in productivity stems from an increase in autonomy. When your employees are free to operate in the way that they know is best, they’ll always be able to put their best foot forward.

Employee retention

Employee engagement impacts retention in a big way. Your highest-quality employees want to be able to do their best work—and will be much more likely to stick around if you always enable them to do so.

In fact, Gallup also found that engaged employees are 59% less likely to seek out a new position within the next 12 months. Conversely, Korn Ferry found that 33% of those who are looking for new work cite a need for new challenges as their reason for leaving.

(Medical dermatology firm Dermira actually put this into practice, launching an enablement initiative that kept employees engaged and productive throughout the pandemic).

Improved business performance

This just makes sense:

If your employees are more productive, and you’re retaining the most productive (and most talented) of the bunch, business will likely be booming.

Need some numbers to go along with that? The Gallup poll mentioned earlier also found that engaged and enabled teams are at least 21% more profitable.

What’s more, continuous improvement is baked into employee enablement by nature. In other words, committing to enablement means you’ll always be looking for more ways to supercharge your employees’ efforts—which, in turn, will lead to even better rewards for your business.

Gallup reports that ramping up engagement results in a 17% increase in employee productivity.

8 best practices for facilitating employee enablement

As you’ll recall, a strategic and systematic approach to employee enablement is needed to fully optimize your employees’ performance.

Here, we’ll dig into the key things you’ll need to do as you adopt this new approach into your practices.

1. Define your goals and intended outcomes

It’s important to know exactly what you hope to get out of your enablement efforts before you get started.

Overall, you need to be able to answer the question:

How will we benefit from going beyond engagement and creating true employee enablement?

Really, you’ll be answering the question three times: 

  1. once for your individual employees
  2. once for your team
  3. and once for your business

To answer this question, you’ll want to think in both quantitative and qualitative terms. Quantitatively, you’ll be looking at KPIs relating to engagement, productivity, job satisfaction—and more. On the qualitative side, you’ll be focusing on identifying areas in which better enablement will have the most impact on your employees and team.

As mentioned earlier, the idea is to raise the bar past “mere engagement”, and set your sights on giving your employees whatever they need to truly succeed.

Related: Why L&D Should Be at the Heart of Every Employee Engagement Strategy

2. Identify your employees’ needs

Your employees’ needs are the driving force behind your enablement efforts.

That said, you need to have an accurate and comprehensive assessment of what these needs are in order to provide for them.

There are a number of factors to consider here, such as:

  • What tools the employee needs to optimize their efforts
  • How much time they need to complete certain tasks
  • Who they need to collaborate with at different times
  • What their work environment needs to look like and offer to maximize performance
  • What Learning Needs they might have

For each of these areas, you’ll want to identify:

  • What they already have at their disposal, and how they use it
  • What more they could be doing with the resources they already have
  • What they do not have that would further enable them and supercharge their efforts

In addition to these more tangible, practical aspects, you’ll also need to consider your employees’ more fundamental needs—both as an individual and a member of your team.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs
Employee engagement exists on a spectrum from most necessary upwards, much like Maslow's Pyramid.

A sense of belonging is crucial to employee enablement. Your employees must feel comfortable working with each other—and working within your organization altogether—in order to thrive.

Once you’ve identified these needs, you can revisit your goals to reinforce what must be done to fully enable your employees.

3. Optimize your workflows and processes

Employee enablement is all about ensuring your employees always know the best path to take at any moment—and also ensuring this path is free of obstacles and other roadblocks.

In short, it’s about optimizing workflows and processes at every turn.

When creating these optimal workflows, you’ll want to consider questions regarding your employees’ performance, such as:

  • Where are your employees (individually and as a whole) thriving?
  • Where are they falling short or facing problems?
  • What factors contribute to their ability and performance (or lack thereof)?

With this information in hand, you can then answer the big question:

What improvements can be made to your employees’ workflows to further enable them and enhance their performance?

And, once you’ve created these optimal workflows, you can make them standard operating procedures for your organization moving forward. This will ensure your employees work to their maximum potential simply as a course of doing business. The L&D and Operations team at Zapier conducted an excellent exercise along these lines, standardizing what ‘high performance’ meant for the company, and enabling teams to better assess, and improve, performance.

4. Provide autonomy to your employees

While creating optimized, standardized workflows is important, this isn’t to say your employees should become mechanical or robotic in nature.

Rather, your systematized workflows should allow for your employees to act autonomously whenever they deem it necessary. 

To be sure, there are many times when “going by the book” might not be the best course of action. Allowing your employees to go off-script and do what they know needs to be done is key to removing friction and maximizing productivity.

(Conversely, being too rigid with your processes will eventually cause your employees to run head-first into certain roadblocks—even if they saw them coming a mile away. Had they more control over their workflows, these problems could have easily been avoided).

You’ll also need to ensure your employees actually take advantage of this autonomy—and always feel empowered to do so. Trust is vital here: Show your employees that you trust their decisions, and they’ll always look to make the one that’s best for business.

5. Facilitate open, ongoing communication and collaboration

Your employees operate not in isolation, but as members of a team.

Or, at least, they should.

Now, it’s probably safe to assume you already understand the importance of improving team communication and collaboration. And you already know that developing proper workflows and providing the right tools are necessary for enabling this collaboration.

Looking at the bigger picture, your goal here should be to ensure your team members communicate, collaborate, and otherwise engage with each other on an ongoing, open-ended basis.

Again, this takes your employees beyond the more procedural approach of communicating with teammates only at specific moments, or when working through specific procedures. Here, enablement will drive your employees to actively seek moments in which to work with others to supercharge each other’s efforts at any given time.

(We should also note that this ongoing communication will lead to tons of opportunities for your team members to learn from one another. We’ll come back to the idea of Collaborative Learning in a bit).

6. Provide open access to organizational knowledge

Knowledge management—the process of creating, storing, accessing, and improving your team’s knowledge assets—plays a critical role in employee enablement.

Thinking back to autonomy, your employees need to be able to solve problems and overcome obstacles on their own. Enablement, in this sense, means ensuring your employees can always find the information and guidance they need at these moments.

To this end, an accessible, navigable, and comprehensive knowledge base is a necessity, like the example below.

Knowledge base example

Your internal knowledge base will be created by your team, for your team. 

Ultimately, the goal will be to create an all-encompassing database of information, content, and knowledge for your team to draw from as needed. You’ll also be looking to organize and present this information in a structured, logical, and user-friendly manner to further enable your team members.

You should also enable and equip your employees to improve your knowledge assets over time. Staying with the theme of autonomy, team members should always be prepared and feel free to make changes to these documents as they see fit.

That said, developing a standard process for making these improvements is needed to streamline and optimize your employees’ efforts in this area. This, again, is why it’s crucial that you take a comprehensive, strategic approach to knowledge management. 

Related: Your Ultimate Guide to Building a Learning Organization

7. Deliver tailored learning & development opportunities

More than just allowing team members to work to the best of their ability, employee enablement aims to improve these abilities over time.

(This actually goes along with everything we just said about knowledge management).

At any rate, true enablement involves providing ongoing learning & development opportunities to your team members. As best as possible, these opportunities should be tailored to the individual learner.

A few things to consider here:

  • Offering training courses based on individual strengths and weaknesses
  • Delivering instructional and informational material using interactive formats
  • Providing opportunities for colleagues to learn collaboratively and practically
  • Embracing a bottom-up approach to training needs analysis

These L&D experiences can be more formal (i.e., scheduled, guided learning sessions.), or they can happen “in the flow of work” (i.e. on-demand engagements). In either case, they should be created in a way that ensures all team members will get maximum value out of the experience.

Related: Check out this webinar to learn more about delivering blended learning experiences in a post-COVID world 

8. Measure and improve your enablement efforts

The nature of employee enablement is that, if you’re doing it right, there will always be more to do.

For one thing, your employees will be more skilled and knowledgeable—and you’ll need to equip them for even further growth and development. What’s more, technology and industry best practices will continue to evolve—making room for additional ways to enable your team.

There are a few things to consider as you determine where to focus your enablement efforts.

First, talk to your employees to gauge your current efforts—and where you can improve in the future.

  • Do they have access to the tools, resources, and information they need to do their job well?
  • Do they encounter any friction or roadblocks as they complete routine processes?
  • Are they able to act with autonomy to a degree that allows them to do their best work?
  • Do they have the support they need to continue learning and developing?

Couple this information with your various employee performance evaluations, and you’ll have a pretty clear idea of where to focus your energy moving forward. 

Finally, revisit your overarching business goals to prioritize your enablement initiatives. In turn, you can make the changes needed to maximize your employees’ effort—enabling them to become an evermore valuable member of your team.