One of the biggest challenges of leadership is creating a culture where employees feel safe to share their ideas, concerns, feedback, and suggestions. Many have worked for organisations where leaders talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. They ask their employees to speak up but seek only praise and approval themselves.
Great organisations develop employees by developing leaders. Leadership is more than a title, it’s a mindset. Joseph Grenny, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Influencer, once defined leadership as “intentional influence.” Co-author Kerry Patterson adds, “At the end of the day, what qualifies people to be called ‘leaders’ is their capacity to influence others to change their behaviour in order to achieve important results.”
Let me share four ideas that can help you develop an influencer and manage employee input.
Solicit Ideas and Inputs Sincerely
If you don’t want their ideas, don’t ask for them. Little contributes to a culture of silence more than insincerely soliciting feedback. So, if you already know what you’re going to do, be sure not to hold a perfunctory brainstorming session.
Also, some people want to be seen and heard, but everyone wants to be valued. Employees share their ideas to contribute value. If those ideas aren’t sincerely valued or appreciated, the employee won’t feel valued.
You can solicit ideas sincerely by making sure you focus less on being right, and more on getting it right. What I mean is don’t let the goal trump the process. When you get input and perspectives from others, you expand your pool of meaning, which leads to better decisions, actions, and results.
Establish Clear Expectations
Make sure your employees understand that not all ideas can or will be implemented. Establishing proper expectations can help minimise frustration. Let employees know that while their ideas may not be implemented, they do inform the final decision. Their contributions may confirm current thinking or spark new ideas to a better course of action.
It’s important that employees know that while they may not be a part of the decision-making team, their contribution as part of the data stream is invaluable. They are often closest to the problems you are trying to solve. They understand the current reality best. Additionally, when employees serve as contributors, they are more likely to adopt the new solution (even if it’s not their own) and serve as champions to encourage others to do the same.
Communicate organisational constraints
With limited insight into organisational constraints, employees often share ideas that are beyond the scope of what the organisation can do. What resources are available? Is there a budget? What’s the timeframe or the level of quality required? Communicate your constraints so employees can offer suggestions and share ideas that work within them. When suggestions aren’t implemented, it’s generally not because they are bad, but because they are outside the constraints. Communicating constraints will lead to a greater chance of implementation. It also offers transparency and allows employees to see clear reasons should their ideas not be implemented.
More often than not, employees realise that all their ideas won’t be implemented. When people get frustrated or angry, it’s usually not about implementation but more likely because they feel their ideas were not considered. So when people contribute ideas, let them know where things stand. If their idea was not implemented, explain why. Remind them of the expectations that were established and the constraints that were shared. Encouraging employee innovation and creativity is key for organisational success, as well as for engagement and retention. Managing the process can be challenging, but healthy organisations will always have more ideas than they can implement. Creating a process built on safety and rooted in sincere solicitations, established expectations, clear constraints and transparent results will aid your efforts.