How much do you know? I mean, you’re smart, but can you solve all of your workplace problems yourself? Do you have all of the information that you need to make decisions that achieve successful outcomes?
Who in your organization can help you be more effective? Whose know-how is indispensable to you and your team? And do you think that person is completely comfortable sharing their thoughts, criticisms and ideas with you?
I’m currently working my way through Effective Coaching by Marshall J. Cook. The very first thing the book does is challenge the reader to evaluate their accessibility. Here’s your call to action:
According to a recent survey… more than 90 percent of employees polled believe they have good ideas about how their companies could be run more successfully. However, only 38 percent think their employers would be interested in hearing those ideas…
How sad. Our team members are actively observing and analyzing their work situations, and developing solutions to make us more competitive in the marketplace, and most of those solutions are going to waste.
This means that one of two things are happening:
- Your company really isn’t interested in employees’ ideas. (This is an incredibly short-sighted and arrogant position, but it happens.)
- Managers aren’t creating the right environment for employees to feel confident taking risks with new ideas.
Why would sharing an idea with your manager be risky? Because the presumption is that they have thought of something that you haven’t. And they know how smart you are. Either you’ve thought of it, and it was a bad idea for some reason or another, or you haven’t, and they’re not going to point that out.
So, here are some steps to foster a culture that promotes idea exchange.
- Make unstructured time. The best forum for this is a weekly one-on-one meeting with each of your staff members, but open dialogue can occur over a lunch outside the office or while traveling to a client — any time where you don’t have immediate pressing concerns.
- Ask open-ended questions. You can start a discussion with something as simple as sharing an issue you’re working with and asking their opinion. “I’ve noticed that our sales numbers are down this month against projections. What do you think is causing that?” “I’ve been struggling with how to clear the logjam in order processing so we can improve our response times. Do you have any ideas?” Or, simply ask them what challenges they’re facing, and try to work through them together.
- Listen. Don’t wait to speak. Don’t analyze while they talk. Don’t think how quickly you can get them out of your office so that you can get back to work. Really focus on what they have to say.
- Praise first. An idea may be ridiculous, impractical or impossible, but your team may not know that. Rather than telling them why it won’t work, start by acknowledging value in what they’ve shared. Thank them for thinking about ways to improve the operation. Find what you can in the idea to praise.
- Facilitate a discussion. Ask questions to more fully understand the proposal. Make sure you know what issue they’ve identified that they feel need to address. If you don’t have time to do the idea justice, make an appointment within the next 48 hours and make sure that you keep it.
- Build on what’s there. If the idea won’t work for whatever reason, use it as a teachable moment and work with your team member to figure out how to adapt the idea or address the issue differently. Share with them why the solution might not be effective, and what portions of their idea are on the right track.
- Follow up. Don’t let them think their ideas go into a vacuum. Make a commitment to a next step, and make sure they know what actions you’re taking in response to their concerns.
I know you’re busy, and this sounds like a lot of work. But the most effective way for you to contribute to your company is to empower your staff so that they can take on more, and you can focus your efforts on strategic work. Practice management discipline, and your life will be much easier in the long run.