There used to be considerable interest in what employees thought. But as the economy tightened up, downsizing and rightsizing occurred. Employers became less focused on individual needs and wants, and more focused on producing products and services. Above all, they were concerned with making money and increasing the return on their investments just to survive.
Indeed, the increasingly competitive nature of the business environment and the reduction in product demand meant cutting expenses, salaries, and even jobs.
One obvious outcome of staff reductions is that employees concerned about keeping their jobs fear speaking up, alienating their boss or questioning the status quo, especially if the latter includes someone's pet project or policy.
This puts entrepreneurs in a bind: You want to take appropriate risks but may be reluctant to do so because of economic realities. You want input from your employees, but you don’t want them to fear being reprimanded or dismissed if their ideas come across as negative or critical. You are aware that some innovative ideas and thoughts about positive change may be stifled due to this fear.
As the entrepreneur and head of your organization, you need to create an atmosphere that allows and even encourages innovative thoughts about processes, policies, people and procedures.
- Make sure senior management gets it. Meet with your senior managers and emphasize the need for opening channels of communication up and down the hierarchy. The need for gathering input from the people who are performing the tasks is crucial.
- Encourage employees to question the status quo. Don't just pay lip service. Demonstrate that you want employee feedback. Be the first one to examine a process, policy, human capital allotment or procedure and raise a question as to its functionality and effectiveness. In front of your employees, state that you are open to constructive suggestions that will improve the system, its efficiency, and its cost, even with fewer available resources.
- Plan meetings specifically for challenging the status quo. With praise, e-mail, voice mail and even simple gifts, reward employees who come up with creative ideas.
- Recognize employees when their ideas are implemented. Make it a big deal and make sure everyone knows which individual or team was responsible for the innovation.
- Create diverse groups to discuss ideas. Include employees with differing perspectives, educational backgrounds, and experiences to share ideas and question the status quo.
Some entrepreneurs incorrectly assume that they are the only ones who can generate a new idea or approach. Many times that is true. But empowering others in the company to do the same will not only increase employee interest and motivation to perform at their peak, but it will also lead to a more successful organization.
Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.