Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Now that you have lit the fire

Light my fire! by dranidis
Light my fire!, a photo by dranidis on Flickr.
A while back an employee participant complained to his Summit coach, "The boss said he wants ideas, we give him ideas and he shoots all of them down!"

Employee engagement, the lighting (or fanning) of the internal fire that stimulates thought and productivity, creates a chain reaction.  Are you sure that you, the leader, really want it?

Sometimes leaders think that their coach is kidding when they say that the leader has to go first in any sort of change initiative.  It's partly because the leader models the commitment to change - the entire employee base is watching and assessing the alignment of management's actions with its words.  But the leader also has to go first to prepare himself or herself for the reality that fire in the belly means taking initiative.  Going forward, if the leader is doing it right, not all of the ideas are going to be invented in the corner office.  And the leader needs to be more than OK with that.  The leader needs to encourage that, even if they are not exactly the same ideas that the leader would bring forward himself or herself.

Think about the employees that drive you nuts:

  • Are they asking, "What if we....?"
  • Are they telling you, "Look what I did...?"
  • Are they saying, "I was thinking and I would like to...?"
If you have created a framework for thought and action in the form of a strategic direction (your destination) and core values (your rules for the road) you have an excellent foundation for independent thinking on the part of your staff.  You just need to let go and let them do it.

"But I can't just hand them carte blanche!"  Certainly budgets can be a concern.  And you might have to help them sort through criteria for prioritizing and choosing the best ideas.  If there are limiting elements, let them know what they are at the outset so it doesn't turn into a game of "Gotcha!"

This isn't a concept that's merely nice to do.  Being willing to let go and let your employees do and stop controlling everything is mission-critical if you want to create sustainable engagement in your company.  Sure you continue to look at the performance numbers.  But instead of keeping them to yourself, share them with your staff.  Let them see the results - good and bad - of the actions they are choosing to take.  Help them to become better decision-makers by educating them - in data form -  about the ramifications.  When they own the results too, you can get full leverage from the fire in the belly - and from the aggregate IQ of your staff.

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