Initiative

7 Easy Steps for Encouraging Employees to Take Initiative

Taking initiative is essentially assuming the risk of a possible failure. When doing so, you put yourself out there and things don’t always go as planned. But the alternative is choosing to be inactive.

If you're a leader, it's vital that members of your team make the right choice between doing nothing and doing something. For a healthy, forward-looking operation, they should want to choose action -- and this begins with the encouragement of a proactive leader.

Related: Culture That Counts -- 5 Ways to Dramatically Boost Employee Satisfaction

1. Start by creating a supportive environment.

Team members need to feel comfortable in their workspace. They should know that while they may strike out, their ideas will be heard and taken seriously by leadership. If the office isn’t a safe place to do this, new ideas will no longer be shared -- or conceived at all. Make an effort to tell employees you are excited to hear their thoughts.  

Don’t always have time to sit down and discuss ideas face-to-face? Create a process for workers to submit and share ideas. Even set up a unique email address for this excluive purpose.

2. Kick people out of the office for a day. 

From time to time, encourage your teams or units to meet separately outside their normal work environment. My company, N2 Publishing, did this with its design department. Members of the team met off-site for the better part of three days and developed some really creative ideas that the company plans to implement.

These thoughts may not have surfaced had the team members met in the same workspace they occupy day to day. Sometimes, all it takes a change of scenery for less vocal employees to come out of their shells and share ideas.

Related: Why Inclusive Workplaces Drive More Innovation and Better Performance

3. Preach volunteering and spearheading. 

Initiative comes in many forms. It doesn’t have to mean single-handedly taking on a new project. Someone can volunteer to help another person who is already on a committee, team or project and support that individual any way he or she knows how. Remind employees that it's not all about coming up with the idea but also helping to move it forward is valuable, too. If you praise volunteers as as potential thought leaders, everyone will realize he or she has an important part to play. 

4. Remember, a good plan today is better than a perfect one tomorrow. 

Yes, it seems strange for a leader to discourage staffers from working too hard to perfect something. And in certain situations this does not apply. But it's important to remind team members that tomorrow may never come. What you are capable of doing today should be done today.

In essence, taking initiative means fighting procrastination. One tip I’ve heard from many others (and the advice works for my team) is to tackle first the task that you are least excited about. Nothing kills initiative like anxiety or dread. 

5. Prod staffers to recall what exactly they’re working for. 

It's important for employees to understand why they do what they do and what consistently motivates them to achieve more. Showing initiative is not a one-day mind-set. It’s an everyday process that needs continual inspiration.

Encourage team members to bring personal objects into their workspace as a physical reminder of why they should want to take initiative. Give workers the freedom to spark their motivation in a personal way with things like a family picture, a motivational quote on the bathroom mirror or vision boards on the wall, 

6. Let history speak for itself. 

Looking back on the past, one can find evidence of great things coming from those who take initiative. Breakthrough ideas, inventions and processes exist today because someone recognized a problem and sought a solution. Your employees may not change the face of the future with their work, but there's a message to be learned from history: No matter how worthy the goal, a person may be unlikely to succeed on the first try.

In sharing stories of people in similar industry or job position who evenutally succeeded after many attempts, you may be providing the encouragement members of the team need. It may not negate their risk of failure, but this human spin might shift their mind-set toward taking action versus sitting back. 

7. Tell employees the truth.

The best, most transformational ideas don't always come from the top. Many times the best ideas come from individuals involved in a department’s day-to-day business. They see the organization from a different perspective, which can be very valuable.

If a team member waits to be called upon, however, the positive transformation will tend to be dependent upon a leader’s prompting. The easiest way to encourage team members to take initiative is to simply enlighten them accordingly: If they know their ideas are not only wanted but also needed, they may find the extra time to develop them. 

We’ve all heard leaders say they want new hires to have go-getter attitudes. It’s easy to forget that this approach can be found inside everyone. Often it’s a matter of encouragement. By simply opening up communication and creative freedom, you may find that you’ve had a team of thought leaders on your side all along. 

Related: Radical Transparency Can Re-Energize a Company's Culture and Deliver Results