Leaders typically encourage their personnel to demonstrate initiative. They need processes to be improved, problems to be solved and changes to be implemented, which can only occur when their teams are willing to invest additional time and discretionary effort.
How do you encourage initiative? How do you overcome reluctance to propose a new idea or method? How do you inspire discretionary effort?
Most employees want new challenges; it increases the meaningfulness of their work and their sense of self-worth. Leaders seek to unleash untapped innovation, creativity, and risk-taking in the workplace.
Encouraging initiative, and then nurturing it so that its momentum grows to become part of culture, often comes down to how leaders behave.
- Treat every suggestion seriously. It takes courage to offer a suggestion, so how you react to it determines if you will ever hear a second one. If one of your people suggests a new approach, recognize it as a teaching moment, even if you promptly realize that the idea has little merit. Rather than reactively negatively or immediately rejecting any new concept, ask the employee to consider these two questions and then return when they know the answers:
- How does his/her suggestion produce quantifiable benefits? Are more units produced? Is time saved? Is waste reduced?
- How soon after the new idea is implemented will these benefits be generated?
More thoughtful suggestions will be forthcoming once it is recognized that ideas are valued, as are those who submit them.
- Allow the freedom to fail and try again. It is important that leaders consider mistakes to be learning opportunities. If an implemented concept fails to generate the proposed benefit, it’s another teaching moment. What worked well? What needed to improve? Should a revised version be tried?
When employees know that mistakes won’t lead to retribution, but will instead serve as a basis for learning and further experimentation, they are more willing to take the initiative, which builds momentum.
Initiative is a powerful competency. Leaders who cultivate it build initiative momentum that strengthens competitive advantage.
How are you cultivating initiative?
Do you have a culture that encourages productive suggestions?