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A leading innovation and marketing blog from Braden Kelley of Business Strategy Innovation

Monday, February 22, 2010

Empowering Innovation

by Paul Sloane

Empowering InnovationThe challenge with innovation is finding products and services that are easier to use, easier to maintain and more appealing to customers. Where can you draw the creativity and drive to make this happen? Often the best source for innovation is the team within your business. A great leader can turn them into entrepreneurs who are hungrily looking for new opportunities. The key is empowerment. By empowering people you enable them to achieve goals through their own ideas and efforts. The leader sets the destination, but the team chooses the route.

What do employees need to be empowered?

People need clear objectives so that they know what is expected of them. They need to develop the skills for the task. They need to work in cross-departmental teams so that they can create and implement solutions that will work. They need freedom to succeed. And when you give someone freedom to succeed you also give them freedom to fail. Above all, empowerment means trusting people. It is by giving them trust, support and belief that you will empower them to achieve great things.

Empowerment is more than managers setting objectives and then leaving people alone. It is about encouraging and enabling people to solve problems, meet customer needs and seize market opportunities on their own initiatives - either individually or in groups from different disciplines.

The goal is to have everyone think of themselves as an entrepreneur who has the right and the duty to solve problems and seize opportunities - not to offload them to others. In many organizations problems are passed up and down a long chain of command. They are postponed, delegated, transferred, ignored and eventually handled by some remote manager who cannot avoid the issue any longer. In the empowered organization they are handled by the first employee who encounters the problem. They have the authority to solve problems and take initiatives fast. They do not do this in isolation - they communicate. The senior team knows what is going on – but because they trust people to do the right things they find out later - after the fact in most cases. This involves risks but it pays back in a much more agile, effective, creative and dynamic mode of operation.

Encouragement Is Not Enough

The goal is to change the business from a routine group of people who are doing a job to a highly energized team of entrepreneurs who are constantly searching for new and better ways of making the vision a reality. We want to use creative techniques to drive innovative solutions to reach the goal. But just encouraging innovation is not enough. You need to initiate programs that show people how they can use creative techniques to come up with new solutions.

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Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.

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