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Empower employees for the digital age

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As businesses continue to introduce new digital tools and services within their organisations, for the benefit of both customers as well as employees, they are faced with a host of new opportunities and challenges. Among the challenges is the need to effectively educate, manage, and empower employees as they work through transitions and become accustomed to the changing workplace and business landscape.
Lyndy van den Barselaar, MD of Manpower South Africa, explains that the digital age presents opportunities for business and economic growth. According to a report released this year by Siemens, the adoption of digitalisation by African countries could add $300-billion (about R4-trillion) to the continent’s economy by 2026, with South Africa poised to derive the majority of the resulting benefits.
Naturally, the evolving business landscape and addition of advanced digital tools is spurring the need for new skills in order to empower employees and businesses alike. Empowering employees in the digital age involves increasing both the authority levels and accountabilities for the employees, by implementing policies and creating an environment conducive for knowledge sharing.
Employees who operate a specific function within a business develop their skills daily, in so far as they know exactly what works efficiently and what doesn’t, and have creative ideas on improving situations and solving problems. They become experts without the power of exercising their expertise.
Empowerment makes it possible and takes it a step further by creating opportunities for them to gain experience, learn new skills and generate knowledge – which is particularly important where new technologies and platforms are being introduced.
“Employee empowerment benefits individuals, managers and the overall productivity of a business, and if adapted to well, can result in employees becoming more involved, stimulated, and feeling valued,” explains van den Barselaar.
She states that employee empowerment can be achieved in three ways.
Firstly, through providing the necessary training for the digitalised employee or customer, since digitalisation is not only about improving what businesses do with technology, it is about changing businesses through the adoption and use of technology. Digitalisation often alters the way businesses interact with their employees or how they are able to create a unique value proposition using technology.
“Shifting toward a fully digital working environment can be an ongoing learning process. It is important for an organisation to assess the gaps between the current and required skills and implement training to ensure these gaps are closed,” she explains.
Secondly, through setting goals and looking ahead. It is important that employees have a clear idea about the outcome of various tasks, as it empowers them with a broader perspective of the organisation’s overall mission, vision, goals and strategic plans.
The better an employee understands his or her job, and how it contributes to the overall success of the organisation, the better equipped they are to make informed decisions in this regard.
Thirdly, through granting adequate authority and a human-focused strategy. Empowerment implies accountability, along with the freedom to make decisions. The performance management process helps to create the accountability for results and the outcomes of decisions the employee makes through ongoing communication, and the performance review process.
“Performance reviews become even more imperative when new technologies are introduced, as they provide a platform for discussion around the use of these technologies, their role in the business and how the employee is adjusting to the use of such technologies,” says van den Barselaar.
“Technology has enabled companies to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to personalised experiences, not only for their customers but also for their employees. Empowering employees and providing relevant technologies assists in building a satisfied workforce, resulting in higher-quality work and productivity,” she concludes.