How can leaders empower their employees to innovate and get results? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
The best thing a leader can do their empower their employees is to lead by example. If a leader says they value innovation but then focuses 95% of an employee's evaluation and compensation on operating the existing business, then, of course, innovation will take a back seat. Similarly, if a leader says they want an employee to discover new opportunities for growth in a business and the employee reports back with a counterintuitive learning or unexpected insight, and the leader shuts it down that employee isn't going to take the initiative or present out-of-the-box ideas in the future.
At Bionic, we say that innovation starts with growth leaders. Every company has creative, entrepreneurial talent hiding in plain sight. But the permissions and boundaries that have been set for their roles and the culture of the organization at large are usually pretty rigid. It's up to growth leaders to set new permissions and boundaries to fuel this work.
Here's a couple of examples (we dig into this for an entire chapter in New to Big so I won't get to everything in this answer):
Growth leaders use questions understand a new opportunity and to push employees to uncover the assumptions in their work that haven't yet been tested or validated. They ask "how do you know?" and "what experiments have you run to see if that is true?" vs asserting their knowledge of a space or customer need and shutting things down.
Growth leaders press employees to "expire their data" rather than relying on things that "have always been true." We like to say that data that is more than 12 months old needs to be revalidated because the world is changing fast and what was true may no longer be true. Customer behaviors may have changed, the costs of a technology may have dropped significantly, a regulatory change may have changed the landscape for competition, etc. Growth leaders ask "how old is this data and how can we quickly revalidate it?"
And growth leaders focus on what customers do, not what they say. That is, they ask for evidence based on behaviors rather than relying on surveys or observations. The difference is crucial -- data that doesn't "cost" a customer anything (like a survey that asks "would you use this product to solve your need?") is going to produce wildly different results than data from an experiment that relies on behavior ("are you interested in pre-ordering this product?" and "would you give us your email address so you can be first to know when the service is launching?" for example). Focus on "do" vs "say" and you'll be less likely to launch something that flops.
Entrepreneurs do these things instinctually; they know they have limited resources and runway to get to an answer that is commercially true. But inside a larger organization teams can flounder and spin their weeks for years before something gets killed off. That can be dispiriting at best and career-killing at worst. Be the kind of leader that rewards speed of learning, productive failure, and getting to the commercial truth, and your employees will follow suit.
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