Suresh Krishna is the president and CEO of Northern Tool + Equipment.
Employees build great companies, and they tend to know what to do to reinvigorate them.
When faced with challenges, the natural response may be to call in a consultant. No offense to consultants—I’ve used them before, and they can certainly help—but the better answer might just be within your employee roster.
By including your employees in the problem-solving process, I believe you can yield more rapid innovation and foster a culture that prioritizes employee engagement.
Implementing A Team-Based Approach
In early 2020, every business was faced with unique challenges that required transformation. Many companies had to make quick decisions and put Band-Aids on problems while they sorted out long-term solutions.
It was during this time, in an effort to maximize my organization’s resources, that my company turned to collecting team member insights and ideas to help shape our strategy and focus areas for the future—contradicting the idea of C-suite executives sitting in a boardroom making decisions.
I am glad we did as I believe it helped us find a lasting solution to strategic planning and prioritization. You can apply this philosophy of including employees in the process across entire organizations from managing margins to real estate selections to employee recruitment.
By giving team members across the organization a voice, you engage them in the strategic planning process for the company. Taking a team-based approach to solving company problems is a tall order, but you can rise to the challenge by doing these three things.
Be Entrepreneurial And Listen
An entrepreneurial mindset means constantly looking for ways to improve your business and being willing to listen to almost any piece of advice, idea or suggestion. When you adopt this mindset, you start listening more. And when people feel heard, they feel valued.
A culture that embraces the entrepreneurial mindset is one where employees are encouraged to speak up about the problems they’re experiencing and offer their solutions. Your employees have a lot of knowledge harbored away, and they can be a valuable resource and offer unique perspectives when intentionally given the chance to share their thoughts and opinions.
Take listening to a whole new level and organize ongoing engagement like hosting listening sessions, forums or town hall meetings with your employees to get their feedback. For people who don’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas in a group setting, offer a platform allowing them to submit their innovations online or when they think of them.
Consistent touchpoints allow leadership teams to give project updates and celebrate the people and teams moving the needle for the company. Consider visiting your stores, offices or other locations to meet with your employees and have those conversations that just can’t always happen through a phone or computer screen.
Know Your Customer By Keeping Your Employees Engaged
Employees are your boots on the ground. Many of them engage with the customer every day. They know what the customer is looking for, what they need and how to best serve them.
So, when employees share their thoughts, it’s not just enough to listen to them—keep them engaged. Employees will continue to offer up solutions to company challenges if you prove that you hear their suggestions and implement them.
And if you end up solving one of your company’s largest problems with ideas and suggestions from employees, celebrate it. Give credit where credit is due.
I suggest that you take a moment to reflect on your core values. Do your core values as a company include engaging and empowering your employees to prioritize the customer and share ways to keep the customer at the center of everything you do?
Living by core values should foster a company culture of transparency. It can also generate excitement and potentially accelerate progress and breakthrough performance.
Empower The Individual And Create Leaders
Look for ways to empower, invest and develop your employees to become leaders within your organization. The value of retention goes a long way, and promoting leaders from within can help strengthen the culture of your company. It can also help prevent rapid turnover and the constant expenses of training new team members.
When employees see opportunities for advancement and growth within your company, it can give them a reason to stay on the team and work toward those higher roles.
When you promote from within, your leaders are now looking at the new hires and modeling and shaping them to be the next generation of leaders. I find that institutional knowledge and core value alignment are invaluable to building strong teams that are skilled at problem-solving.
But these strategies only work if you are committed to utilizing your employees to their fullest potential and seeing the problem-solving power within them. You can’t just prioritize engaging with employees and investing in them if you aren’t going to follow through on their suggestions and ideas.
Engagement and investment with no action will work against you.
When you begin utilizing your employees as problem solvers, make sure to ask your leadership team to be accessible and to look for additional ways to empower the front-line employees. When faced with challenges as a company, it can be easy to call in a consultant. Instead, I challenge you to look at the team of experts you already have first.
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