How to Use Employees’ Ideas to Drive Business Growth

With 53 jobs under my belt, I’ve come to realize one thing about office politics: “Behind every bad idea is an executive who asked for it.” Traditional, top-down structure often hampers the formation of great ideas. After hearing “no” one too many times, employees stop suggesting the very ideas that could spur unbridled growth across the board.

Quick Takeaways

  • Authoritarian companies stifle the growth of thought and drive away top employees.
  • Growing companies encourage innovation and the free expression of ideas.
  • Investing in your people, together with empathy, spurs innovation, growth, and brand advocacy.

Top-Down Management Maintains Control – But at What Price?

Let’s look at what happens in a top-down, authoritarian company. Although the leadership in such a company say they’re concerned about their bottom line, their actions speak otherwise.

Even though statistics show that:

  • Nearly 80 percent of all workers would be willing to put in more hours at an empathetic workplace.
  • About 60 percent of the nation’s employees would accept a salary cut to work for an employer who respected their ideas and thoughts.
  • Losing employees can cost from anywhere from six to 24 months’ salary.

One would think that the threat of losing these talented people would cause executives to stop and think twice about wasting the talent and foresight of the people they hired.

But, there are even more reasons to listen to your employees’ ideas. Those ideas might be the very ones that drive your company to the top of your industry.

What drives a healthy company’s growth are its employees’ ideas. After all, why hire talented people if you hamstring their talent?

Harness Your Employees’ Ideas to Generate Revenue

According to Entrepreneur’s Robert Tuchman, if you’ve hired talented employees, you need to trust the talent you saw in them to produce the kind of value their ideas can generate. When you empower them to share their ideas, all that otherwise wasted brainpower can go to work to generate more revenue for your company.

But, you must be accessible, Tuchman points out. I agree. Don’t just sit on the sidelines hoping their talent will help them figure out tough challenges.

Offer your assistance – and encourage them to collaborate with each other. As they share ideas, they will sharpen each other’s skills, forging bonds as they solve problems together.

Always acknowledge their ideas. When you can implement their ideas, do so. If you can’t put their ideas to work, ask them to tweak the concept until it does work – or find a similar train of thought that does. When you respect them for their foresight, they’ll keep producing ideas that eventually will bear fruit in the form of more revenue.

Build Brand Advocacy Through Employee Ideas

Tear down the silos that divide talented marketers from superb salespeople and brilliant engineers from the content marketing teams that can create stunning brochures and videos for that new widget prototype. When you pair the talent and ideas in one department with those in another, the dividends can be enormous.

Not only should you foster collaboration among your employees, but you should also foster a collaborative attitude yourself. Ask your employees for their feedback on various current projects, as well as their input on possible new projects.

Engaging them in the decision-making process creates a sense of investment in the company. Not only will they become more productive, but they’ll also become brand advocates, spreading the word about what your company does far and wide.

Use the Power of Employee Ideas to Drive Innovation

As you empower employees to become brand advocates, go a step further and use their ideas to drive innovation. With today’s rapidly changing technology, business processes, and market changes, innovation is a must to take the lead in your industry.

Once you’ve seen the value engaged employees bring to the table, you’ll want to attract more talented people to help grow your business. Innovative companies are the ones that draw that kind of talent – so you’ll need to harness your employees’ insights to drive that innovation.

You can do just that with what I call the “innovation formula.” As I researched my book, Mean People Suck, I discovered a threefold combination that leads to corporate innovation:

  • Encouraging idea generation at every level and in every department
  • A culture that champions employee career growth across the board
  • Executive leadership that embraces empathy – the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is – Invest in Innovation

Instead of buying more stuff – be it equipment, property, or company vehicles – put your money into your people and their ideas. The very research and development (R&D) your company needs to become more innovative comes from the minds of your people.

That means that you need to not only fund a robust R&D program but also reward employees that come up with ideas that improve your company internally. When you recognize the janitor’s contributions to doing work better with the same enthusiasm that you do your star engineer’s, you will inspire innovation across the board.

Not only will you inspire innovation from the usual suspects – developers, engineers, and marketing whizzes – but you’ll activate an innovative culture at every level of your company.

Empower Employee Career Growth Throughout Your Company

It’s not enough merely to keep your staff’s skills current. When you invest in educating employees to move beyond their current level to a whole new level of responsibility, challenge, and, yes, even salary, you’re telling your employees that you believe in their potential.

Yes, they could leave your company with their new knowledge. But that’s the scarcity mentality at its worst. As Amazon.com – itself a major innovator – points out in its new ad, believing enough in your people to educate them to the point at which their skills are marketable to other companies takes courage, but it pays off huge dividends in loyalty and innovation. After all, who in their right mind would want to leave a company that does that?

Embrace Empathy at All Levels

Putting yourself in another’s shoes is a game-changer when it comes to your company’s ability to innovate. When you create a culture of empathy throughout your company, it impacts everything from customer experience to your partnership with other companies to create business ecosystems.

When your employees can see themselves in their customers’ shoes, they can mentally walk themselves through the customers’ experiences. That ability allows them to suggest ideas that can transform customer experience, whether through augmented reality, AI product suggestions, or a thousand other innovations.

When your staff can envision the benefit your company might bring to a partner company, that insight can pair their shared values to create ecosystems that benefit both enterprises. These strategic partnerships allow companies to weather rough patches better and move more quickly to leverage opportunities to grow.

Finally, when management at all levels can put themselves in employees’ shoes, they’ll likely create the kind of supportive, challenging, yet encouraging workplace that attracts innovators from across all demographics. This diversity, in turn, brings other cultures – other ideas – into the mix, providing a healthy incubator for ideas to grow.

To discover more about how empathy and empowerment can drive the kind of innovation that spurs company growth, you need a guide that can help you transform your company. One of those guides is my latest book, Mean People SuckOrder a copy for yourself – and your entire C-suite staff. I can promise you – it can set your company on course for success.

Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.

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