Four Steps to Empower Your Employees to Drive Innovation

EMPOWERMENT AMONG THE MATRIX AND ESPECIALLY EMPLOYEES. Empowerment comes in a variety of flavors, from tweaking an employee’s idea to make it sing, or framing assignments as a problem or desired result instead of instructing how to do it. It’s allowing your employees to learn through failure and succeed through experimentation. It’s silencing all the naysayers and amplifying the wild and zany. It’s having the courage to allow employees to work with customers or other stakeholders to create solutions that are both relevant and novel. It’s the essential action to transforming the controlling dysfunctional culture and internal processes of the past into a nimble, effective system that delivers innovation consistently and at speed. It also will help lift the burden on you, as the leader, of backlogged decisions and projects necessary to successfully compete in the swift chaos of change.

Step 1: Demonstrate faith and confidence within your employees. It is your respon­sibility as a leader to dem­onstrate your confidence in employees by giving them autonomy and authority. You must let go your need to control and micro manage and give your team space to explore and experiment. Even when they aren’t around, you are the one who sets the tone with peers and other leaders. Those innocent eye rolls at conferences when the keynote challenges you to trust your employees. The sighs of frus­tration when something fails or misses the mark. No one, including yourself, is perfect. People will rise to the level to which you allow them. It is up to you to have faith and confidence in each employee and provide them the opportunity and support to excel.

You are the only one who can do it. Lead and your team will follow with sur­prise, delight, and a can of whoopass in their pocket.

Step 2: Put on your whistle and get ready to coach. Coaching isn’t for lit­tle league anymore, oh no. The new era of empathy requires more of a coach than a commander. It is the “ask,” not the “tell.” You must guide your employees, not dictate. The knowledge worker of today is educated, intel­ligent, and insightful. Nothing can be accomplished solo, nothing outstand­ing that is. It’s using stories and examples from your past to explain and demonstrate. You must set expectations, pose challenges not tasks, and give them freedom to experiment, learn and achieve, while you are on the sidelines influencing along the way. It takes restraint, don’t underestimate that. It’s in the moment, it’s ongoing, and it’s the new normal.

Step 3: Diffuse toxic people. It is your role as a leader to diffuse the negative nellys, the it’s-always-been-done-that-way, it-will-never-work, we‐have‐tried‐that‐before people in your matrix. Whether it is your employees, your peers, or bully customers, you must lead with opportunity and confidence and demonstrate your support for your team. Too often the toxic comments come from within and sometimes from outside, but there is no place for that negativity in the world of innovation and results. That toxic can’t-do attitude is enemy number one on your quest to operationalize innovation in the enterprise. The only way to allow ideas to flourish is ensure a trusting and open environment. You must hold the line and delay criticism and judg­ment during brainstorming. You must teach the negative ones how to build with the famous improv concept “yes, and” instead of “but, no.” Teach your employees how to ask clarifying questions or phrase specific roadblocks and obstacles instead of “dissing” the idea all together. That is how constructive debate can transform a seed idea into a brilliant plan. And new ideas, trust, and confidence are the walls that complete the hall of empowerment.

Step 4: Cultivate patience. Shit happens. It’s true. Sometimes there are riffs and the universe is out of balance. Discord is a natural outcome to debate. Some people don’t get along. Humans have been fighting since the beginning of time. It’s your job to demonstrate patience when things don’t go your way and impart that skill on to your team and others you influ­ence to empower the whole community. Patience is hard when you are overextended and overwhelmed by the fierce need for a quick solution or answer. Patience is the ultimate gift. When diverse people come together on a project or goal, it is important that the team tempers its passion with patience to develop the best possible solution. I don’t know many entre­preneurs who are naturally patient, but they will be the first to tell you the power that comes from cultivating that skill.

You have to be able to see people. You have to be able to imagine what their world is like outside the office. In order to empower, you have to empa­thize and share your strength to boost theirs. Patience is fundamental to empowerment, as challenging as it is to master. You can’t steadily deliver excellence without it.

Master these steps and impart their wisdom on your matrix and empow­erment will be right behind. The Era of Empathy has arrived. Taking these simple steps will prepare you for this new era and prepare you to lead The Innovation Revolution charge.

Enjoyed these innovative leadership tips? Find more in my bestselling book The Innovation Revolution: Discover the Genius Hiding in Plain Sight – a practical guide to leading in the 21st century and creating a successful innovative culture in the enterprise.

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K. Melissa Kennedy

Chief Innovation Officer, Founder, Intrapreneur. Entrepreneur. Enthusiastic leader and speaker. Teller of truths at 48 Innovate
I spent many years working for and building successful companies. I parlayed that experience into a unique process for harnessing hidden assets inside organizations and turning them into big-idea-generating, $1-billion-revenue-producing resources. (Spoiler alert: it’s the people.) I'm an internationally acclaimed expert, happy to share the not-so-secrets that have led to impressive outcomes for Fortune 100 corporations, major educational institutions, start-up companies and entrepreneurs. Working with companies like Cisco, Lancope, Arby's, Capitol Broadcasting Company New Media - WRAL, PRSONAS, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, REVO Communications, Erno Group, Focus Carolina, Madan Global, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, INZONE Brands, Albright Digital, Spring Metrics and NC State Kenan Fellows.

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