CMT In Depth

How to Build Value by Empowering Your Employees

This article orginally appeared in the February/March 2019 issue of Canadian Music Trade.

By Michael Raine

When you delegate tasks, you create followers. When you delegate authority, you create leaders,” says Life.Church Founder and Pastor Craig Groeschel. It’s a favourite quote of Will Mason because it neatly encapsulates the principles he uses to run Mason Music’s four locations in Alabama.

Empowering and motivating his employees is not something Mason did by accident; rather, it’s something he learned to do by necessity. “It was a solution to a problem that we observed and felt,” he says. He has boiled his method down to four connected strategies that he first shared at Summer NAMM 2018 and, due to popular demand, again in the Idea Center at The 2019 NAMM Show.

The four strategies are: 1) define the win; 2) delegate authority, not just tasks; 3) choose to trust; and 4) create a shared sense of accountability.

But before explaining the four strategies, Mason says he always begins by addressing one issue that plagues many business owners: need for control. “I think this is something that can really limit the ability of our team to develop their own strengths if we, as owners or managers, try to control everything. If we’re trying to know everything that is happening, or be in charge of everything that’s happening, or make all the big decisions, at some point that becomes the lid on an organization if we’re not willing to pass things off and develop others and let them lead,” he explains. “We all have this propensity to want to control everything and if we can understand that that is something that we need to start letting go of, then we can look at some of these ways.”

So, with that in mind, let’s look at Mason’s four strategies for empowering and motivating your team.

1. Define the Win

“Everybody sets goals, and that’s not anything Earth-shattering or ground-breaking,” begins Mason. “But I think it’s important, in the context of motivating and empowering your team, to instead of just setting a goal and then telling your team what the goal is, invite them into the conversation at the beginning and say, ‘Why don’t you help me create this vision for our preferred future?’”

Bringing employees into the goal-setting process creates buy-in from everyone because it ensures everyone has a personal investment in achieving the goal.

“The problem is, if I just say, ‘Here’s my goal,’ as soon as I hand you my goal, that becomes your quota. It’s like, ‘OK, now I’ve got to do that thing that Will said we have to do.’ It’s just not very motivating and it’s certainly not empowering because they have no skin in the game. But if you invite that frontend involvement, it yields a lot of backend commitment when the rubber meets the road and when you’re halfway through a quarter and you realize, ‘Oh man, we really need to step it up,’ you don’t have to go back to those team members and reiterate why the goal is important because they were part of setting the goal themselves.”

Setting short-term (weekly or monthly) goals that set the pace for achieving the long-term (yearly) goal is key to the process. That helps ensure you’re staying on pace and not simply looking up at the end of the year to see what happened, or too late in the process to make changes.

“A really important thing is also celebrating those goals and celebrating the victories. Like when you hit a goal, it needs to feel like a win. That’s what creates this habit of success for your company. To create a habit, you need to have stimulus and a response. The stimulus is the goal being set, and the response when you achieve your goal is you have a big party or you celebrate.”

2. Delegate Authority, Not Just Tasks

“Many owners in companies will simply delegate a task or group of tasks to individuals who work for them. That’s great and you get stuff done that way and it takes something off your plate. But what happens is when they finish their list of tasks, they come back to you and say, ‘Hey, what’s next?’ And that’s fine if you only have one or two employees; maybe that’s working for you, but if you have five or six or 10, 20, 30 employees, then they’re constantly coming to you for direction and the next to-do list. That really starts to take time away from the things that you need to be focused on,” Mason explains. “If you instead choose to delegate authority and say, ‘Hey, this is an area where I trust you and am going to empower you to make the decisions in this area,’ it’s amazing to see what people can come up with.”

Too often, employees are hired to do a specific job and then carry out the associated tasks until they’re fired or quit. Over time, delegating authority will result in employees, not just owners or managers, building value in the business. And it also results in your best employees sticking around longer.

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3. Choose to Trust

This, obviously, is very closely aligned with the previous strategy because you’re not going to delegate authority unless you have trust.

“This is the hard one. The good news is it is something you can choose to do, but trusting people is difficult. Especially if you’ve been doing this a long time, you’ve been burned at some point. Most managers or owners have hired somebody who didn’t work out,” concedes Mason. “The problem is, if you’re not willing to trust people, you’re going to miss out on a lot of the benefits that come along with being able to delegate authority. The thing is, once you start trusting and empowering people to make some decisions, inevitably they’re going to make mistakes. It’s human and we all do. In fact, if we take a look at ourselves, that’s how we’ve learned the things that we know is we’ve made mistakes along the way and we’ve corrected and learned and grown through that. But the tendency is to give somebody trust until they lose it, or some people say, ‘You have to earn my trust.’”

The definition of trust Mason chooses to use, taken from business leadership author Patrick Lencioni, is, “Trust within the frame of a team is believing that others’ intentions are good.”

Obviously, you don’t want to hand over major decisions to an unproven employee. But rather, delegate some authority on smaller things and build up that trust on your end, as well as the employee’s confidence and ability.

“You have to know upfront that they’re going to make mistakes and you have to be willing to accept a temporary decline in productivity,” says Mason. “But if you’re willing to accept that, then on the other side of it, there’s no ceiling anymore because you can bring more people on and you can train them and empower them and they can help create new value for a business. So no longer is it up to you, the one person, to come up with all the ideas and to do all the work and make all the big decisions. Now you have other people who – sorry, no offense –they’re just as smart as you, if not smarter, helping you with all that stuff. So, if you’re willing to take that temporary hit, there’s a payoff on the other side.”

The natural reaction when there is an initial decline in revenue, say, or more mistakes in general, is to get scared and retreat. There is the feeling that, “I need to be in control because I tried that and it didn’t work.” Mason sympathises, but stresses such a reaction ultimately freezes development and boxes in the company.

4. Create a Sense of Shared Accountability

“This is really important if you’re handing over a lot of authority to your team. That could be entry-level employees or it could be managers. Whatever level of the organization, if you’re handing some form of authority over, that’s pretty scary. It needs to be coupled with accountability,” says Mason.

The most effective form of accountability in a team environment is peer-to-peer, rather than top-down. A top-down approach sees employees coming to their boss when there is an issue with a co-worker. The boss then has to address it with the offending employee. Mason says this is often ineffective and builds mistrust in the team. It leads the person to think, “Somebody was talking about me and I don’t know who it is – maybe it was that person? – but I can’t trust anybody now.”

A more effective approach is to build accountability into the company culture. “Like, ‘Hey, we have all these goals that we’ve all agreed to, right? Yes. OK, we know what the values of the company are and how we’re going to behave and interact with each other? Well listen, if somebody is out of line, everybody else on the team has permission to go to that individual directly and have a conversation with them,’” says Mason.

A culture of peer-to-peer accountability is something he has worked hard to build at Mason Music, even empowering his employees to call him out on any counterproductive behaviour. “If you can get your team to do that with each other, it’s a lot more effective than everyone having to come to you,” he notes.

Related to this, Mason emphasizes the importance of feedback from managers and owners. Studies have shown that feedback is vital to employee engagement. Positive feedback is best for building engagement and personal investment in a business’s success, but even negative feedback has shown to be better than no feedback at all. Mason cites one study that showed employees who reported receiving no feedback, good or bad, from their employers were much more disengaged because it creates a sense that no one cares or notices what they do.

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Michael Raine is the Senior Editor at Canadian Music Trade magazine. He is also a co-host of the popular Canadian Musician Podcast examining the Canadian music industry.