Is Employee Empowerment the New Leadership Model?

Posted by Julie Hiipakka on July 25, 2018.

Just how critical are leaders to employee experience? It turns out that even as individuals and teams increasingly call the shots about the way work gets done, leaders are often the single biggest influence on employee growth and development. Bad managers can sap morale, erode employees’ trust, or worse, harm business performance. Get top-performing managers on the job, however, and they not only serve as coaches and mentors but also help build a culture of consistent improvement.

Though business and decision-making models are changing, it’s still up to leaders to create an engaged workforce. To accomplish this, many companies need a different type of leadership model in place—one in which leaders and employees partner to achieve business objectives. What can organizations get in return? First, they create a memorable employee experience. Second, they can see positive returns on multiple levels, from higher revenue per employee to big increases in innovation. Our Understanding Employee Experience series explores these connections in detail.

What’s wrong with the old leader-employee relationship?

Think about the increasingly outdated approach in which training and mentoring get handed off to HR. The message in this case is that employee development is someone else’s job. Thankfully, leaders are recognizing that things have changed. But they need to take more assertive action.

Leaders today need to communicate with employees about opportunities for learning and development, potential career paths, and resources the organization can offer.1 When they coach, mentor, and participate in developing others, they send clear messages that show they value and want to see employees reach their potential. That investment pays off—employees have a better experience at and are more engaged with their organization.

Top leaders also need to understand that the old command-and-control model is no longer relevant, given the pace of change at businesses. When this type of mature leadership model is in place, employees are more engaged because they realize their contribution matters.

How can leaders adjust to this reality?

Employees work at organizations, but they work for leaders. Here are three ways leaders can help employees develop and grow:

  • Empower employees to make decisions: Leaders should think of ways to integrate employees into strategic planning, and give employees the autonomy to make decisions that lead to meaningful results. Organizations that provide this kind of transparency are signaling to employees that they trust them and are setting them up for success—leading to a better employee experience.2
  • Seek and act on frequent feedback: Organizations should also set up systems to seek, absorb, and act on frequent, fresh feedback. Try mobile apps, autonomous methods, or other ways to collect responses at a variety of touch points. Leaders who seek the unvarnished truth drive higher employee engagement, better business performance, and an improved employee experience.
  • Encourage flexibility and team-based collaboration: Some organizations are empowering cross-functional teams to deliver work. These groups come together to work on specific projects under guidelines defined by leaders, then break apart when the projects are done and regroup into new teams to take on the next challenge. Remote or flexible arrangements, in which employees choose how, when, and where they work, create conditions that encourage collaboration and demonstrate trust to team members. When employees experience trust, purpose, autonomy, and mastery, they land at a point of passion that makes them truly impactful.

If your organization is trying out new leadership models, we’d like to hear from you. In addition, if your organization is working on new employee experience initiatives and you’d like to be interviewed as part of our research, please reach out to Madhura Chakrabarti ( or Robin Erickson ( In addition, be on the lookout for an online survey later this summer.

Bersin members can download and read the full article, Understanding Employee Experience: The Role of Leaders. Not a Bersin member but want to know more? Visit the Bersin website. For more insights into the employee experience, please see our blog series, which continues over the coming summer weeks. Bersin members should watch for our continuing articles in this series that takes a deeper look into the many aspects of the employee experience today.

Jeff MikeJulie Hiipakka, Vice President, Learning Research Leader

Julie leads learning research for Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP. Julie has over 20 years of experience in learning and development, talent management and recruitment in consulting and in-house roles. Her practitioner experience includes creating global onboarding programs, using peer-created learning within leadership training, multiple mergers and integrations, and leading a globally distributed team. Julie helps organizations create business impact by connecting learning, talent, and organizational change efforts to organizational goals and strategy. A Certified Professional in Learning and Performance, Julie holds a master’s degree in communication from Florida State University.

1 Creating a Culture of Leadership and Learning: Building the Case, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Stacia Sherman Garr, Andrea Derler, PhD, Candace Atamanik, and Janet Clarey, 2017.
2 Creating a Systemic Relationship with Talent: Putting Employees at the Center of the Talent Experience, Bersin, Deloitte Consulting LLP / Stacia Sherman Garr and Emily Sanders, 2017.

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