As leaders of small and medium-sized businesses, growth always seems to be high on the list of our priorities.

But even after seeking out and retaining business growth consultants, and networking with other experienced, successful business owners, it can still feel like some element of the growth formula is missing. Research and development is expensive, and the use of incubators and accelerators to develop a growth strategy may not be right for the size of your company, or your budget..

That's why we need to remember that our employees are our most valuable assets. They're the ones making day-to-day decisions on our front lines. And when we create a culture of empowerment, we give every employee an opportunity to contribute to meaningful growth..

Here are three ways we can empower our employees to share their thoughts and ideas with us and allow their ideas to possibly bring our businesses to the next level.

1. Use collaboration tools to generate ideas.

Your company may already be using instant messaging platforms to communicate with each other. However, these collaboration tools are also an excellent way to build a community. Communications platforms like Slack and Flock allow you to set up themed channels and allow your workforce to discuss anything from the weather to the workplace.

In my organization, I created a channel within our collaboration tool for new ideas that allows everyone in the organization to bounce new ideas off each other. When our employees feel they can comfortably embrace collaboration tools to share their thoughts and ideas, they feel a sense of recognition and visibility. This is important in a time when 45 percent of U.S. workers say they have not been recognized at work in six months or more, while another 16 percent say they've never received recognition. 

2. Hold idea-sharing lunch meetings.

A lunch and learn doesn't have to involve formal presentations and outside speakers. You can invite your employees to lunch and learn from them in a casual environment.  

Quite often, I will host a lunch meeting with employees I select at random. At this lunch, I ask each employee one question: "What one change would you like to see rolled out in the organization?" Since many of these employees are on the front line, listening to our customers and their concerns day in and day out, they can deliver insights and ideas that can help us drive change in the company's direction and culture.

3. Build time for creativity into the work week.

We've all had "a-ha" moments that usually come at the least-convenient times - like in the middle of the night or while driving in the car. Chances are that every member of your team has these a-ha moments at similar inconvenient times.

Often, we're using our entire workweeks to perform the task at hand, and not spending time discussing growth. We can shut our companies down for a set scheduled hour or two a week and allow employees to share these a-ha moments and other learnings of the workweek. Whether this is done face-to-face within teams or as a company, it offers every employee a seat at the table and a chance to share their ideas.

One thing we cannot do is quickly look for context or a strategic alignment with every single innovative thought our employees bring to us. Our employees ideas may not be immediately practical for our businesses, but they could be tweaked and brainstormed further to eventually fit our company's overall growth goals.

Prioritize ideas by what's the most-natural connection to the company and let every employee who contributes know that their ideas are appreciated.