At least monthly, an audience member will come up to me after a presentation and say something to the effect of, “I love your ideas but hesitate to try anything new, because I’ll irritate my boss or coworkers.” Despite all the research and words we’ve expended pointing out that engaged team members are more productive, some leaders still enforce the old my-way-or-the-highway attitude. They don’t see (or don’t care) that unhappy, bored people have low productivity, so they just push them harder, further damaging their performance. Many employees want to help improve processes for the better, but often others aren’t willing to try anything new.
Even some leaders who know there’s a better way often hesitate to make changes, because their own leaders remain stuck in the past. But look: as technology makes it easier to work independently from anywhere, there’s less of a need for knowledge workers to work for anyone but themselves. Companies as they currently exist will fall apart if we keep treating knowledge workers like replaceable cogs (Peter Drucker tried to tell us this 25 years ago). As leaders, it’s our responsibility to create workplaces where people want to be, where they don’t dream of leaving, and which aren’t TOXIC.
Let’s start by giving our teams the opportunity to engage in true teamwork. Let’s give people the initiative to suggest new things, to try new things, and to invent more effective ways to work—without always asking permission, and without worrying about punishment if they fail or err. Initiative allows for grass-roots innovation at all levels, which is a necessity for business survival today since it increases flexibility and agility. And as much as everyone seems to be sick of hearing the term, encouraging initiative empowers engagement.
Why do so few workers own their jobs these days? I believe it’s because they don’t feel like they really belong to a team and have no say in how things go.
Who would you rather lead: a group of people who arrive at 8:00 and leave at 5:00 unless you force them to do otherwise—or teammates who go over and above what’s required and give you the gift of their discretionary time, because they love their jobs so much?
If you don’t help create an environment where this attitude can flourish, your workers will become self-employed workers, who can use inexpensive technology to work for whomever they please while setting their own hours. It’s already starting to happen. So if you’re living in the managerial stone age, modernize quickly. Stop giving lip service to initiative and put it into action.
© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, a.k.a. The Productivity Pro®, helps professionals achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. For over 20 years, her keynote speeches and workshops have helped leaders boost personal and team productivity, increase results, and save time at work. Laura is the author six books, most recently Execution IS the Strategy. Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and USA Today. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.