successful leaders take wheel

4 Ways Successful Leaders let Employees Take the Wheel

Many organizations want employees to embrace change, but that doesn’t go far enough. They should drive it.

Employees have trouble embracing change because they have to get behind something they did not create. While some strategies appear to be effective at getting employees to embrace change, a stronger and longer-lasting solution comes from having skin in the game and constant employee involvement in the changing organization.

Businesses have become much more transparent. Giving employees more of a say is hard to avoid. Instead of hiding company challenges and solving them behind closed doors, consider inviting employees into problem-solving discussions. Companies like Google, LinkedIn and Sony have had some success with employees submitting new product ideas and developing them. And it leads to a competitive advantage.

A stronger and longer-lasting solution comes from having skin in the game and constant employee involvement in the changing organization.

What should you do to put employees in the driver’s seat?

1. Listen to employees and take action.

Sounds simple, however companies of all sizes find this difficult to actually do. It takes leaders at all levels who actively listen and follow up, regularly. When this happens consistently, employees have reason to speak up and get involved.

2. Share organizational challenges that inspire employees to help solve.

If employees don’t know how they can help, the value and impact they bring will be easily lost and wasted. On the flipside, they can bring a new perspective and become a greater asset.

3. Have processes that make it easy and efficient for an employee idea to go from inception to execution.

There are new platforms being developed that go way beyond sharepoint and the traditional suggestion box that can help share, track, evaluate and action employee contributions.

Make it easy and efficient for an employee idea to go from inception to execution.

4. Constantly encourage everyone to share success stories.

When employees see their own impact on driving change, it encourages the cycle to continue and become ingrained in the culture. One of my favorite stories is from Morton’s.  An employee saw a hungry customer jokingly tweet from an aircraft as he was boarding his flight: “Hey, @Mortons – can you meet me at newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours? K, thanks. :)”  The passenger was absolutely shocked when he landed and found a guy in a tuxedo greeting him, holding a hot porterhouse steak in his hands. It may not have been the normal course of business for Morton’s but this is the upside to having an empowered workforce.

What are the results of putting employees in the driver’s seat?

Employees become, what I like to call, “brandful.” This means they start living the brand because they are now a part of it. They genuinely promote your products and services through their personal networks. They go the extra mile to best represent your brand. This can have a tremendous impact on marketing, corporate citizenship and recruiting efforts. It allows you to step away from pushing such efforts onto employees and becomes something they are inspired to do.

Companies mistakenly spend time and resources on being a part of the top employers list. This approach focuses on enticing employees to feel proud because of what they are given, instead of what they are giving.

Companies mistakenly spend time and resources on being a part of the top employers list. This approach focuses on enticing employees to feel proud because of what they are given, instead of what they are giving. The approach of placing employees in the driver’s seat is the wave of the future, where employees and employers win together by what they both contribute to the winning brand.  The pride comes from what they can do together.

The next time you feel yourself becoming frustrated that employees aren’t getting onboard with all the changes going on, think about trying a different approach. Let me know how it goes.

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Image credit: mihtiander / 123RF Stock Photo

Julia Gometz is an author, speaker, consultant and global thought leader in people strategy. In her book, The Brandful Workforce: How Employees Can Make, Not Break Your Brand, Julia developed the first blueprint for organizations on how to bring a brand to life through employees. Her focus is “How can employees best contribute to bottom-line business results?” After pioneering some employee metrics at JetBlue Airways, where she was head of employee engagement, she founded The Brandful® Workforce, a company that provides expertise to organizations on how a workforce can work “for” the brand, rather than “against” it. She previously worked at Morgan Stanley and served as a mediator on Wall Street, as well as in court systems and in the community. Julia lives in Forest Hills, New York with her husband and four children.

  • eMailMe

    Basically, the people empowerment on a next level. People tend to become more productive if they are engaged to be what they wanted to, rather than what they were told to do. Although this may vary culturally, the key here is they were given the “ownership” and the everything positive follows…

  • Ben Simonton

    Great post Julia. You are a rare bird. The essence is in the listening and responding because the others can all be done in the process of listening and responding to employee complaints suggestions and questions.

    It is important that this process be used and demonstrated by top management since this is the only way to lead subordinate managers in how to treat their employees with great respect and to lead everyone to treat customers, each other, and their bosses with great respect. Listening and responding respectfully to the satisfaction of the employee is a superior leadership skill, the only one worth a damn.

    In my last management position as executive of a 1300 person unionized group, after I demonstrated to all how to respect employees for a few months, I then issued my “anti-robot” rule that managers were not allowed to tell employees what to do or how to do it. They could train them and coach them if they did not know what to do and how to do it, but they were not allowed to give orders except in an emergency. Everyone down to the lowest level worker became aware of this rule and I enforced it.

    This group became highly motivated, highly committed, and fully engaged Superstars loving to come to work to collaborate with other Superstars to achieve excellence in just2 years.

    You have the right formula Julia and there are not many like you.

  • Brett Andrew

    This is all very sage advice, Julia, particularly number 4 on the list. While it’s important employees provide feedback on execution – both the good and the bad – a platform for sharing wins and other positive feedback really strengthens engagement across a team. We have a few customers that leverage our tool at StatusPath ( in this manner. When an employee provides their status update on objectives, the employee might also offer a key learning from the week, or a new product idea or important win, all in a highly transparent, social environment.

    The companies with the most success in this arena take the time to set up the feedback structure – hence the value of a software application like ours. These successful companies further encourage the behavior by reacting to all ideas and broadcasting those wins in a way that make it worth the employee’s time. We have plenty of stats and use cases I would be happy to share with you or your audience.

  • Robert Pye

    I agree that getting behind change and innovation is key. I would go further. Ownership of change, for example?

    Perhaps this could go much further. Owning innovation is much more than participating in “choose me!” challenges. Or participating in innovation events. Or…

    Most organisations have “owners”, leaders and employees. If we were all of the “owner” mindset mediated by the values and overall purpose of our organisations, there would be no need to “ask”. Driving change and innovation should be the “new normal” IMHO.

    Take three or four founders in a startup. They are all collectively responsible for the outcome. Why not the same for an organisation with 50,000 staff (stakeholders / owners)?

  • Paul Ricken

    Great quote. Employees should give by showing they are remarkable. Leaders should give more by being more remarkable. Leaders should give their unconditional love and care for their employees. Then employees will give more and more of the real version of themselves.

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