Leadership Series (33): How Leaders Can Encourage Subordinates Initiatives. By Victor A. Imhangbe

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One of the most significant activities that motivate employees is the freedom to take initiative. Taking initiative is a key ingredient in making improvements at work, solving problems, dealing with change, and providing customers with service that far exceeds their expectations. It’s the employees who are actually performing the jobs who are in the best position to know how best to do their jobs, to resolve problems as they arise, and to benefit the most from their actions.

As noted by Bill Hewlett, Co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, “Men and women want to do a good job, and if they are provided with the proper environment, they will do so.” In short: give your employees what they need to do the best job they can with as much of their own initiative as possible, and your results and success–as well as theirs–will inevitably improve.

On the contrary, there is a symptom known as “Employee career killer” it’s an altitude of “it’s not my job”. This is an indication of a much larger organisational problem. Workers who simply do their jobs and nothing more do not contribute to company growth. If they don’t take the initiative by seeking out new projects and looking for opportunities to share their ideas and suggestions, an organisation can become ensnared in old ways of doing things.

There are two set of leaders in any organisation; one is the leader that solely believes in their ability; anchoring on their strong intellectual and management skills to achieve organisation set objectives, while the other is the leader that strongly believes on delegating responsibilities to their subordinates and sharing achievement with them. When there is achievement by such a leader, the subordinates are appreciated, while the former take the entire glory. In real sense it is usually difficult to distinguish the two, but the followers find it easier to work with the leader that seeks their initiative to enhance performance.

As a leader, you must motivate your employees with regular word of appreciation or simply a reward. A worker feels neglected without the doses of appreciation of their work. He needs that constant tapping on the shoulder from his leader. When you acknowledge the hard work of your subordinates, they feel more motivated and determined towards completing the goals. This is common with a football coach that remembers to dedicate his award to the entire team. It also applies in football when the highest goal scorer is being rewarded for an award, some take the glory as the one with the most skill and an eye for goal, other believes it is practically impossible to achieve that feat without the contribution of their colleagues.

However, if workplace culture doesn’t encourage employees to be proactive, they likely will not have the courage to take the initiative. A proactive culture rewards employees for taking action without being asked. Employees are expected to take initiative and lead regardless of whether they are in a formal position of authority. Talent managers can foster this environment by sharing employee stories that provide tangible examples of proactive behaviour.

When this proactive culture is missing, employees’ ideas and actions are often met with criticism or dismissal, and they may stop trying to come up with new and better ways to do things. They become disengaged, resolving to do only what is necessary to get by. The company will eventually lose ground to competitors that encourage and reward initiative because their employees will find ways to improve processes, cut costs and introduce innovative new products and services.

How Manager Can Encourage Employees Initiatives
Joel Garfinkle provide six ways managers can create an environment where initiative is encouraged and appreciated by empowering employees and rewarding them for their efforts.

1. Tell employees what they want and why. Managers should tell their employees why it’s important for them to take initiative, and explain how being proactive will be good for the company and for them. When employees take initiative, the benefits can include improved customer satisfaction, cost savings, new product ideas and problem solving.

2. Be a role model. Leaders must demonstrate the calculated risk-taking behaviour they want their teams to emulate and hold their fellow managers accountable. The best leaders don’t just give orders, they inspire.
3. Authorise teams to make decisions. Good managers give employees the authority to take the initiative on certain things without prior approval. For example, employees at the Ritz-Carlton know they can spend up to $2,000 to ensure a guest is satisfied.

4. Provide a positive, encouraging environment. People are most creative when they enjoy their work. There’s a reason Google allows its engineers to spend 20 percent of their time working on projects of their choosing. Many of the company’s most successful products were developed during this time, including AdSense for Content and Gmail.

5. Recognise efforts even if they fail. As Bill Gates once said, “How a company deals with mistakes suggests how well it will wring the best ideas and talents out of its people.” Employees need to know there will not be any repercussions when they screw up. Managers should recognise them for taking risks even if it didn’t work out. This will give them the courage to continue trying.

6. Reward success. Some of the best rewards provide recognition. For example, employees who demonstrate initiative may be given the opportunity to have lunch with the CEO or other senior leaders. This can be an exciting and motivating experience. Extra vacation days, showing appreciation for a person’s ideas in front of senior leadership or presenting the person with some sort of award during the weekly staff meeting are all good ways to recognise employees who take initiative.

In a nutshell, when corporate culture encourage and promotes employees initiative, the personnel feel empowered to be creative rather than rigidly adhering to guidelines that may not provide the best solution. Managers should recognise risk-takers for their ideas, and give them verbal credit when their suggestions are implemented. Seeing their ideas in practice gives employees a feeling of pride and accomplishment, and that’s the best reward of all.

There is no doubt that when companies enter a decision-making process, the outcomes of such decisions can greatly affect both the company’s top management and its employees. Hence, bringing employees onboard when making decisions about the company’s future helps strengthen your relationship with each employee. You’ll gain respect from your employees and instill a sense of responsibility in your workforce when you let your employees voice their opinions and the management derives great benefits from such alliance as discussed below:

Benefits of allowing subordinate initiatives

  • Trust: This is a major factor to determining relationship between the employees and the manager. Corporate leader that make a far reaching decisions that will impact the subordinates, but chooses to keep them in the dark may lose the employees’ trust. It is common especially to some employees with foresight; who may think the company is deliberately keeping decisions about its future plans secret because those plans include adverse outcomes for employees. By involving your employees in the company’s decision making, you’re bringing transparency to the workplace. You’re essentially saying “This is what we have on the table, for better or for worse.” Even if one of the potential outcomes is negative for the employees, you’re at least gathering their thoughts and involving them in the process.
  • Different Angles: When there is only one person or a handful of people making a decision, the decision-making process can become narrow and focused on one topic or one outcome. When you involve more minds, different ideas may be brought to light and solutions may be proposed that were never before thought of. Your employees may have a few ideas on how to improve the company, but unless they’re brought into share their thoughts, they may never have a chance to express themselves.
  • Employee Relations: Including employees in the decision-making process tells them you value their opinions. Employees may understand that their everyday actions help or hurt the company, but it’s difficult for them to see that impact directly. When an employee sees that his input helped implement a beneficial company change, he can see his impact; it makes him feel that he’s making a difference. Helping employees understand that the company needs and values them is important for building a strong working relationship. Explain to your employees how you considered their input once a decision has been reached. For example, suppose the discussion is centered on hiring a manager from outside the company or promoting from within. You could explain that your decision to hire within came from the fact that the majority of employees strongly opposed hiring outside of the company.
  • Employee Commitment: A major reason employee involvement has grown is because it has been shown to increase employee commitment to their organizations. By involving employees actively in decision making, company leaders affirm the value of their employees. Employees more naturally develop deeper commitments to organizational and departmental objectives when they help set them and are involved in achieving them by offering input and making decisions that affect success.
  • Better Ideas: Customers also benefit when companies seek employee input. Front-line employees that interact directly with customers or clients often have more insight into customer concerns and feedback. When company leaders create an environment that encourages employees to share ideas and to get involved in decisions, they often get more informed perspectives with regard to what customers want. When top managers make all critical decisions on their own without employee involvement, their ideas are limited to their perception and past experiences.

LIMITATION
Despite the numerous benefits articulated above, it must be noted that there are potential challenges of encouraging employees involvement in all line of decision making process which includes: The risk that the line of distinction between the management level and employees level becomes blurred. Also there is need to safeguard corporate records such as; profit related records, trading secrets and brand identity that are strictly reserve for top management. Decisions that may lead to outcomes that could negatively affect a business if someone were to share the information with an outsider, for example, should not be shared with employees. In addition, decisions that require data that only management is privy to should not involve employees.

The discussion above has given us the basis on the essentials of allowing subordinates initiatives by corporate leader. My next series will discuss why a leader must accept responsibility in failure. Your opinion and feedback is appreciated on the comment column. Do you like the piece? It’s always good to share.

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