Empowerment, Engagement, and Creativity Drive Innovation
Empowerment, engagement, and creativity drive innovation. However, we often fail to make such connections. Organizations need innovation to sustain a competitive advantage in today’s world of work. That said, too many teams and organizations struggle to sustain improvement, let alone innovation.
Most work system designs do not promote high, sustained levels of empowerment, let alone engagement and creativity. This post explores the connection between these three factors and innovation rates. More importantly, it includes concrete work system design changes to help you realize higher levels of innovation across your organization.
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Empowerment Gives People the Chance to Contribute
What percent of your team, let alone your organization, do you truly empower to help make a difference? In too many companies, most people show up, do their job (which leaders often tightly control and limit in scope), and go home. General Electric, Allied Signal, and Motorola had success with their Six Sigma initiatives. Others failed to replicate that success. How come? One key factor is that GE and others designed their work systems to consistently empower an ultrahigh percentage of their workforce.
Do the math. You can’t generate innovation after innovation unless you give people more freedom to learn, work with others, and expand their work horizons. Ideally, it is part of your leadership development process, strategic plan, capital and expense budgets, and ultimately, your culture to enhance and expand empowerment levels. All too often, leadership egos and actions keep great ideas from spawning into innovations.
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Do Your Job Designs, Measures, and Compensation Plans Encourage Empowerment?
I was fortunate to learn early on in my career that empowerment works because everyone is great at something. I worked in companies where leaders were expected to both be part of improvement teams and let others lead those teams. Doing so was part of their job description, and they were evaluated relative to those defined expectations.
More importantly, leaders must be taught how, and required to, let people make decisions that lead to consistent customer delight. “I’ll have to check with my supervisor” is not heard very often in organizations with true empowerment. This does not happen by chance, however. The opportunity to contribute must be built into your job descriptions, your performance measures, and your compensation plan designs.
When given the chance, people will make the right choices and do great things. How well is your company built to support, encourage, and reward empowerment? A suggestion box is not enough. In fact, suggestion boxes are often the kiss of death when it comes to empowerment and innovation potential. Simply put, the designs of our jobs, processes, and systems don’t include enough time to effectively evaluate, let alone install, all of the great ideas such an approach initially generates. All too often, the exact opposite is the case. Leaders raise expectations for change, and then dash them.
Engagement Gives People a Reason to Contribute
How many of your people care about their jobs beyond the paychecks that go into their bank accounts? How many of your people go the extra mile to help make the organization better? What percentage of your staff has bounced as soon as a better job offer comes along? Engagement won’t happen just because the word is part of a mission statement or the biggest word in the company’s word bubble poster.
Engagement happens when people feel like their leaders care about both them and their ideas. The systems necessary for true empowerment drive the potential for engagement, but every leader has to support those systems. They have to consistently treat their people with respect and encourage people to truly make a difference. Your core measures of leadership effectiveness should include empowerment and engagement dimensions. Use both formal and informal methods to regularly assess dimension-specific support.
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Keep in mind that engagement goes way beyond ‘mere’ satisfaction. Effective engagement results in people who will serve as advocates for the organization, its mission, and its values. Retention rates, absenteeism rates, and idea submission rates are all indicators. Leaders must design each job so that multiple vehicles exist for engagement. Perhaps more importantly, leaders must be taught how to perform their jobs in a manner that encourages engagement vehicle use.
Creativity Turns Great Ideas into an Innovations
How many of your people are creative? In reality, that percentage is much higher than one thinks. However, the ‘prevailing system of management’ often hamstrings our creative abilities. As Dr. Deming once said, “The forces of destruction begin with toddlers.” We put people into boxes and expect them to stay there. We fail to effectively empower our people to try new things or do things differently. They miss the chance to learn and contribute in ways that they never thought possible in a workplace.
Leaders encourage and enable creativity more than teach it. Skills to enhance one’s creativity might be readily available, but do your leaders encourage skill development as often as they should? Even when they are encouraged and developed, restrictive work systems, and overly restrictive leadership practices, prevent people from putting their ideas to work. How often do you recognize and reward creativity in your company? How often do you expect creative contributions as part of one’s job description?
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