What is punishable – let’s encourage the initiative

How do you inspire your employees to show initiative?

Traditionally, new concepts are invented by specially trained people or managers. However, even the most creative manager would benefit from the ideas of line employees. Who knows, maybe the average sales manager nurtures sensational ideas, the implementation of which will cause a sensation in the market. But how to encourage employees to share their creative ideas, if the statement “Initiative is punishable” sits firmly in the minds of many? How to overcome these fears and create an atmosphere in which professionals are willing to voice their own proposals?

In the right place at the right time.

Demanding that employees show initiative is possible and even necessary. Only it is necessary to set the accents so that employees understand when and where it is appropriate to offer their innovative concepts.

It is no secret that there are organizations where a specialist waving the plan of company promotion in front of the office of the head is a nonsense which, to put it mildly, is not welcomed by the management. →

“It is difficult to try to change something, to make any suggestions in the work of a company with a clear, well-organized mechanism of all its links: management, staff, working principles, teamwork. If there is no particular need, there is no need to take the initiative. Superfluous fuss will not be useful for such a company”, – says Ella Mikhaylova, leading consultant of the recruiting agency Penny Lane Personnel.

There are also categories of specialists who are not allowed to show initiative according to their job descriptions. →

“Not all areas of the company’s activities in principle involve deviating from strict procedures, sequences of actions. For example, it is difficult to imagine with what initiative can come to the management of the bank employee, the driver of the electric train in the subway, the financial controller”, – says Ekaterina Krupina, the general director of Personnel Agency of unique specialists.

Therefore, before demanding from the employee any rationalization suggestions, it is necessary to show that it is encouraged and volunteers are not threatened by any punitive measures. →

“In order for employees to show initiative, to address ideas, there must be certain conditions in the company. So that employees want to improve something, to give birth to ideas”, – says Ekaterina Krupina.

It is quite another matter when the management does not just create an appropriate atmosphere and hints delicately that ideas need to be shared, but directly asks employees to show at least some initiative. And if such appeals remain unanswered, it is necessary to take appropriate measures.

Under the pressure of fear

Initially, you need to understand why employees are afraid of the initiative. First, fear of being misunderstood by management often overrides the desire to become an innovator. Secondly, there is a possibility that the implementation of the idea will be entrusted to its author, and by applying exclusively personal resources and capabilities.

Ekaterina Krupina confirms that employees’ fears about taking the initiative may be due to the fact that they will be fully responsible for the execution of the project. The saying “Initiative is punishable” from the Soviet times is still alive in the memory of specialists.

Vladimir Yakuba, senior partner at Tom Hunt, says that it happens when an employee himself does not want to show initiative in proposing innovations: “The reasons may lie in the lack of creativity, lack of expertise, disinterest and unwillingness to show initiative. Many see themselves as doers, and that’s all there is to it.

How to overcome all these fears and inspire employees to voice proposals and ideas?

Idea Generator →

“With such reasons the management should fight by organizing educational and motivational trainings, meetings to apply the method of “carrot and stick” within its reasonable limits. You can tell an employee, “What results do you want to achieve in our company after 3-6 months? Gain relevant experience, skills, maybe a promotion? Then work, come up with ideas, and take the initiative to achieve the company’s overall goals!” It is necessary to challenge the person, to use the so-called “weak?” technique: if you can overcome a certain barrier, to some extent overstep yourself, begin to actively, enthusiastically act for the benefit of the company, then the management will encourage your efforts according to the results of work”, – advises Vladimir Yakuba.

It is equally important to make it clear (perhaps hold a general meeting) that the initiators will not be burdened with extra work, and will not be punished for the fact that the idea is bad or untimely. And don’t forget about communication: employees should have the opportunity to present their ideas verbally or in writing. If a manager is barricaded in his office, and communication with him is possible only through his personal secretary, it is unlikely that anyone would want to storm into this “fortress” to share their ideas.

Vladimir Yakuba argues that you can also overcome the fear of employees to show initiative, for example, by announcing the worst possible result: “You should explain to a subordinate that if he fails, if he doesn’t realize the idea, he, firstly, will not be fired. Secondly, he will get valuable, irreplaceable experience. It is necessary on the part of the management to support morally, to set up the employee to achieve high results”.

Valeria Minenkova, HR Director of Ozon.ru recommends using PR elements to set up the process of generating ideas by the staff. “For example, you can choose the most enterprising people and share their success stories with everyone – publish these stories on the corporate website, in the magazine, celebrate these people on corporate holidays, make short films, etc.”.

Ella Mikhailova summarizes that it is necessary to emphasize successful tasks, and not to fix attention on the failure. It is better to analyze the difficult moments and look for ways to solve them. The expert believes that with this approach employees will not be afraid to show initiative.

Stick or carrot?

Let us assume that employees are convinced that it is possible and important to offer their ideas. And they are even ready to implement the concept they have come up with. What next? Is it possible to punish an employee if he failed his own project and such a seemingly good idea failed? →

“It is never a good idea to punish a specialist if he has not implemented an idea in the proper form. Perhaps he is just at the beginning of his creative journey, and too obvious demonstration of dissatisfaction by the management with his failure can provoke the appearance of uncertainty in future projects. Showy “debriefing” will not bear any fruit. But a personal conversation during which you should make a “work on mistakes”, analyze the mistakes made in the work, will help to avoid failure in the implementation of future ideas”, – says Vladimir Yakuba.

It is clear that the initiators (especially successful ones) should be encouraged in some way so that other employees will strive to follow their example. If you reward them with a dry “thank you”, even the most restless worker will soon give up on all the innovative ideas. It is easier to work quietly and not to create problems in the form of all kinds of creative ideas.

Experts agree that, whatever way you look at it, the best reward is money. Material motivation is a kind of engine of ideas.

Valeria Minenkova believes that initiatives can be rewarded for their realization: “If the prize is earned fairly, on terms that are clear to all the employees, why not introduce a financial incentive? There is just one important point: those who have not yet received a bonus, it is important to understand what they can do to earn such a bonus. If a company provides transparent conditions of bonus payment, it will motivate. →

“Certainly, it is necessary to encourage the beginnings of employees, even those who have not reached the realization of their idea. If an idea has been implemented and begins to bear fruit, then, firstly, it is necessary to inform all employees of the company who is the author of the idea, and secondly, the innovator should be somehow noted financially. For example, an employee of our agency submitted an idea that the company’s management has long thought about and nurtured, but lacked an implementer who would help technically to implement it. It turned out that the employee just at the right time brought up the idea, and he was ready to do the project – in the end, he and led it, “- gives an example Ekaterina Krupina.

But no one canceled the non-material motivation. Recognition (both personal – from the head, and public – from the team) – a great incentive for the generation of new ideas. This can also include the prospects of career growth: the one who shows initiative, the one who moves up the career ladder. The most important thing is that it all works, and that promises made to employees are not empty words.

Vladimir Yakuba believes that moral encouragement is necessary – it will give the employee a feeling of necessity and importance for the company. Attention of the management helps many to assert themselves in the collective. Yet, according to the expert, it is the system of monetary motivation (or the possibility of promotion) in most cases, “does its good deed” much more effectively than words of praise.

Initiative is punishable: offer new solutions correctly

The post-Soviet mentality is still full of opinions: “Do you need more than anyone else?” and “You came up with the idea, so you implement it. Share our Reksoft tips: what we do to make implementing change easy and enjoyable, and how employees are not afraid to take the initiative.

“Initiative is punishable” – anyone who has gone to school seems to know this tenet. Our post-Soviet education is often designed to train people of the system, which sometimes ruins the expression of any individuality and critical thinking. So how do we change this attitude? We have maintained an informal style of communication from the first day of work, even a little earlier – from the interview and the sending of the job offer. We communicate on the “you” side, we are open and positive, at all stages and at all levels – from HR to the CEO. Even the “stupid” questions are answered openly, because there are no stupid questions.

Remember yourself on your first day at work – when you don’t know not only who to go to lunch with, but also where to go. Now because of the pandemic, this is exacerbated by the fact that often “newcomers” get into the office not on their first day of work, but after six months in the company. No matter how you look at it, a welcoming corporate culture is the foundation on which any company’s innovation stands.

“Do you want it more than anyone else?” – Perhaps it doesn’t even matter where this slogan comes from. But it is the one that stalls development. Even an adult confident person, after hearing this expression 2-3 times, perhaps not even in his address, will think: “And really, why do I need it?

In our company it is customary to thank for the initiative. And thanks can be in different ways – with words, opening of a new project, a bonus or a gift. We use all ways. We thank even if we know for sure that at the moment the idea is unrealizable: no budget, no time, no understanding of why the company needs it. Any idea can grow into a project, it just may have to “rest on the shelf” for six months.

“We have a customer for whom we have implemented and continue to implement many projects. One of them had a UI/UX specialist. The process in this company is set up in such a way that employees from different departments and sometimes parallel organizations of the holding gathered in regular workshops and the developers demonstrated the results of their work. During one of such workshops, when our specialist was showing a prototype of a new system interface, he was approached by a customer representative who had nothing to do with the current project and asked him to draw something similar for their department.

Our designer, on his own initiative, drew his vision of the interface over the weekend. The client really liked it, and asked to discuss the details of the whole project. Only at this stage did I and one of our salesmen get involved. Thanks to the initiative of our in-house specialist and a successful prototype, the communication turned out to be quite positive. We pretty quickly came to an agreement and launched the new project.

That’s great, we’re still working on it, so it was a long-term and mutually beneficial cooperation thanks to the initiative of a colleague. Of course this case wasn’t ignored and we rewarded a UI/UX specialist financially as well as by presenting him with a special merit prize from the hands of the General Director during the annual ceremony of awarding the best employees of the company”.

“You came up with the idea, so you’re going to implement it.”

In fact, often the people who suggest something are willing to lead the implementation of change. But few people like orders. In addition, any additional activity requires a person’s time. And immediately there is a resistance – “Why do I need all this?

At Reksoft, we do it this way: first we talk to the person in detail about the essence of his proposal, how he sees this or that change. Then together with him we discuss who could lead the implementation of the change, discussing that a high degree of involvement in the process will be required, that it makes no sense to appoint a directive in this case. In almost all cases, the person who took the initiative offers to lead the process.

So the company started Agile club, Speaking English Club, club for informal communication and even a club for creating technical holiday quests for the colleagues. There are also more global initiatives – the Rostov Reksoft Development Center was the idea of one of the employees who now heads that division.

Support is an important component of any change. Even if an employee decided to lead the initiative himself, he can’t do without support in any case – the management, the process holder, the team. We try not to leave the employee “on their own”. For example, when our colleague suggested holding English conversation clubs and volunteered to be a speaker himself, we helped him with collecting needs from employees, forming groups and organizing the process. This is a new process for the company – we have had conversation clubs before, but they were run by a professional teacher. But a company employee will be leading them for the first time. And yes, we are also worried. But together we are sure to make this activity interesting and useful.

In order to make sure that all the “tips” work, we have tools and features of our corporate culture that help us hear the initiative of our employees:

  • An open-door policy – every employee, without exception, can approach/call/text any employee, all the way up to the CEO.
  • Regular anonymous satisfaction survey – we conduct one every six months, asking all employees for their opinions and scrutinizing the results. We take a particularly detailed look at problematic feedback – this is where the most serious points of growth for change are found. Based on the results, we make a plan for implementing changes, create working groups, and disseminate the results to our employees.
  • Permanent opportunity to ask a question anonymously – in order not to be tied to the survey every six months, each employee has the opportunity to ask any question as soon as it appears. The company’s internal corporate website has a special “Questions and Answers” section. Since the process is anonymous, the whole company sees the management’s answer.
  • Openness of HR – we are building relations with our colleagues from the very moment of the interview, so that the employees had the opportunity to address any question to HR. This is especially important for newcomers, and also for complicated cases, such as conflicts of interest or misunderstanding. All employees can use this channel. For example, two colleagues who have worked at Reksoft for several years recently found out in a conversation with HR that not only the supervisor, but also the HR manager or even the production director can express their desire to be trained. What a new employee learned from an introductory course is sometimes forgotten by the old-timers.
  • Telegram-channel – we use this tool very actively. All employees can write in our corporate chat room. There are times when it’s less scary to ask “in front of everyone” than to ask one-on-one.
  • REK TV is a corporate television format where representatives of top management speak. Every employee has the opportunity to ask a question anonymously the day before and hear the answer firsthand as part of the broadcast.
  • Feedback – after every event we request the opinion of colleagues, whether it is an introductory course, an internal meeting, a celebration or an awards ceremony. For us, it’s not an empty word. All feedback is thoroughly analyzed and changes and improvements are implemented based on the results.

Let’s now look at the process of implementing the initiative from a different perspective. Here are a few recommendations for employees: how to propose new solutions so that they are accepted.

It’s important to be prepared for the extra responsibility and workload:

  • to lead and drive the process – after all, you are the one who best understands exactly what the initiative is all about.
  • To the expenditure of additional time, perhaps even outside of your work schedule.

It’s important to carefully outline the process and plan for implementing change, or at least be prepared to do so. It is necessary to understand who will be involved in the process of implementing the initiative, it is desirable to get support in advance. And most importantly – it is important to clearly understand why this is necessary, what benefits the company gained from the implementation of the proposed initiative.

We would like to conclude the article by quoting Theodore Dreiser: “Courage, initiative, enterprise – how much they mean, and luck in addition”. Be daring, and everything will work out! And the company will definitely support you. At least at Reksoft. After all, if you don’t try, then nothing will change or will change, not as quickly as you want it to. And if you try, chances for change increase many times over.

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