When leaders involve employees in problem solving and decision making they are more likely to innovate and deliver changes aligned to business strategy.
Two important conditions are needed to drive innovation and strategy execution by employees:
1) Trust: freedom for employees to share ideas and take risks,
2) Involvement: to create employee energy and ownership.
A study by Harvard Business Review showed "when employees feel their voices are not being heard, or they are not involved in the decision making process, they are likely to stop caring. Many of them will decide to do just what they are told, instead of taking active roles in coming up with new ideas to help their companies grow".
Four years ago, working in a major ASX firm we were struggling to reduce costs. One Director decided to mandate a freeze on interstate and international flights as an immediate cost saving exercise. The solution and decision came from him as an order. This created frustration and apathy among employees. They resented the change. While costs came down in the short term, they eventually went back up when the travel ban was lifted.
At the same time a different Director enlisted the support of his team to develop cost saving solutions. Involving and trusting employees in solving the problem brought a significant amount of ideas that reduced costs: video conferencing, cheaper travel and hotel suppliers and other sustainable changes aligned to business strategy. The changes were owned by the employees and implemented effectively. A very different result with a much more productive and long term outcome.
As leaders when seeking innovation and change, we should present employees with problems to solve, not just mandate solutions.
Increasing involvement and trusting employees will harvest better outcomes. Like plants in our garden need sunlight and water to yield fruit, employees need trust and involvement to yield ideas and implement change.
So...plant seeds, not trees.