Empowering employees to innovate

Innovation that does not simplify and enable the work of employees will not deliver the results leaders want.

About the author

As the Chief Marketing Officer, Nick Reynolds oversees branding, demand-generation, digital marketing, public relations, events, and social media for Lenovo across Asia-Pacific.

Whether it is data visualisation tools to improve analytics or an efficient expense management system to automate claims, new technologies are fast disrupting the way we conduct business.

Today, organisations across the world are starting to embark on digital transformation as they seek to digitise their business and reap the gains that technology can offer. This is especially prevalent in Asia-Pacific, where more than half of large organisations in the region already have a formal strategy set in place – ahead of both Europe and North America.

While we celebrate the region’s proactive approach to new technologies, it is only half the battle won when it comes to remaining competitive in today’s Digital Age.

Gone are the days where an award-winning solution will guarantee a pole position in the industry. The creativity and innovation that come from an organisation’s most valuable asset—its people—needs to be maximised for it to develop solutions that deeply resonate with the customers’ needs and deliver the high level of service they are increasingly demanding. This, I feel, gives companies the competitive edge to stand out in today’s crowded market space.

So what does it take to unlock your employees’ full potential? It’s simple. Create an employee experience—not just engagement—that is centred on a culture of innovation, one that fosters deeper collaboration, ramps up efficiency, and builds employee loyalty. However, as the old adage goes, everything is easier said than done.

Personally, I keep the three following considerations in mind to ensure Lenovo’s employees are set for success:

Change starts from the top

According to a recent study by Microsoft, less than half of Asian employees feel empowered by their organisations to embrace the demands of the digital workplace. While adopting new technologies is a great first step towards digitisation, the power of influence plays an equally crucial role in creating the right environment for innovation to thrive in; this can be achieved if business leaders embody an entrepreneurial mindset that sets the tone for employees to follow suit.

This means moving away from the traditional top-down management model and towards a two-way communication process instead. Recognise that your employees are your first line of advocates and invest more time in getting to know them. You can start by first defining strategic, organisation-wide policies to encourage candid discussions beyond the old suggestion box.

Organising healthy inter-departmental competitions centred on innovation is also a great way to spark excitement and ideas that go a long way in driving culture change. What is important to keep in mind is that change always begins with action. While driving conversation may be a good start, management teams need to set an example by taking the first step before others follow suit.

Empowered employees will empower businesses

McKinsey recently revealed that while more than 80% of executives acknowledge the crucial role innovation plays in an organisation’s growth strategy, only six percent are satisfied with the outcome of their business transformation. Why the disparity? In the race towards modernising their business, many tend to forget that meaningful innovation is built upon addressing business needs and end-user feedback. In other words, innovation that does not simplify and enable the work of employees will not deliver the business benefits leaders crave for.

Gaining insights into your employees’ pain points on all levels, be it their grumblings of tedious administrative tasks or more strategic conundrums, is critical to identifying the areas where innovation can make the most positive impact. Lenovo, for instance, recently developed a suite of internal sales tools to address the pressing administrative challenges of its sales employees. What previously took 45 minutes now takes only five, enabling them to dedicate the time saved from administrative work into building relationships with customers and prospects.

A celebration of failure

Many inventors quote failure as their recipe for success. As such, business leaders need to be bold and acknowledge that failure is part and parcel of every success story. Only by failing will companies be presented with the opportunity to measure the gap between action and results, make better-informed decisions and ultimately, create a culture of innovation that drives great results.

Take Alphabet’s X, an American research-and-development facility built upon a foundation of failures. Its director Astro Teller says the organisation believes in rewarding employees for failing, in order to encourage them to take risks and make breakthroughs. The result? Creative innovations that are solving the world’s problems, such as Project Loon – a network of balloons travelling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas to the world wide web and help bring people back online after natural disasters.

Though failure is not synonymous with progress, it does indicate that experimentation and innovation are occurring. Weeding out the fear of being right or wrong removes the ceiling on the success that can be attained by employees.

Ultimately, every great organisation is supported by a workforce that has the right tools, platform, and culture to drive innovation. Staying relevant in today’s highly competitive environment requires a transformation blueprint that puts the employees at the heart of the business. After all, motivated and innovative employees generally equate to better offerings and happy customers.

And tell me, which business leaders do not want happy customers?  

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