Ways to Get Employee Involvement
So, with that in mind, how do you encourage freethinking in the workplace? Here are some techniques that some members of my peer advisory groups use:
• Encourage your employees to offer suggestions—after all, who knows the ins and outs of your business better? Whether through an old-fashioned Suggestion Box or a special email address, create a dedicated process for soliciting employee input. Perhaps each month, you could solicit ideas on a specific topic—say, “What do customers want?” or “How can we make this product better?”
• Recognize and reward your employees’ best ideas. It doesn’t have to be a huge reward to be powerful. Whether it’s a premium parking space for your “Great Thinker of the Month” or a paid day-off, recognition works. Implement as many suggestions as you can, even some of the weaker ones, in order to prime the pump.
• Cultivate a workplace environment that encourages innovative thinking and collaboration. Hold interdepartmental brainstorming sessions. Make sure employees know how to give each other positive, constructive feedback. Provide training if necessary.
• Similarly, don’t foster an environment where employees feel free to criticize and badmouth each other. This tends to shut people down. If you have an organization destroyer in your midst—someone who consistently undercuts morale—take action. Even if that person is one of your top performers.
• Take note of your own management style. When one of your employees makes a suggestion, is your knee-jerk reaction to quickly shoot them down? Train yourself to respond in a more positive way. Be more open to new ideas.
• Instead of running every meeting yourself, let your employees take turns being chairperson. This encourages others to talk and gets you in the habit of listening. Remember, as the boss, you are by nature intimidating. Your staff is pre-programmed to defer to you. You won’t invite anarchy by occasionally leveling the playing field a bit.
• Make a point of hiring different kinds of thinkers, as well as people with diverse backgrounds. Look for candidates whose strengths and styles complement rather than mirror your own. (Of course, they must share your moral standards and work ethics, but that’s a different story.)
The point is, you never know where—or from whom—your next great idea is coming from. Be the kind of leader that encourages innovation.
So let’s banish the expression “Great minds think alike.” I like this one by General George Patton better: “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”