Initiative results in valuable innovation when it is aligned with organizational priorities and disciplined execution. As a strategic advisor, I’ve seen that associates who are willing to make a contribution to their organization can often become frustrated if they don’t understand how to turn their ideas into a reality. The challenge for most leaders is to foster creative, innovative ideas while instilling the discipline of planned execution. So how can you encourage both without undermining either?
The situation is familiar. Picture this: An associate comes up with a bright idea, feels strongly about a point of view or wants to make something meaningful happen. Fueled with good intentions, they start acting on what seems like a decisive move. The initiative is commendable, but to succeed, it needs to be channeled properly.
Concerned that this brainchild will be crushed before it is born, associates often find ways to nourish, protect and advance the cause undercover until it is ready for a public appearance. This calculated risk and discretionary effort is expected to be well-received. To no one’s surprise, that’s rarely the case.
Even if someone’s idea makes valuable points, unless it was adequately socialized, it will lack the support necessary to be widely accepted. Unless it was properly prioritized, the timing could be off. Without the required resources, it will go nowhere. The art of bringing up innovations successfully through the organization is as important as the ideas themselves.
As a leader, you are faced with needing to redirect the associate’s energy into more productive ways, without demoralizing individuals or derailing other priorities. You can communicate this message in three simple steps:
1. Say, “Yes!” to the general concept or portion of the idea that is valuable.
- Say, “No,” to the points that are misaligned, out of scope or not fitting current priorities.
Say, “Instead, you could …” to redirect the initiative in more productive ways, including halting action completely.
Picture yourself as the coach of a sports team. You have players with varying talent and personalities. Some might try independent plays, yet the game is played as a team sport. Your role is to coach the players to learn their position and support the team. Those who break off to pursue a scoring opportunity through an independent play are not necessarily bad payers, but if their effort is not well coordinated, it could risk the game.
The best sports coaches and business leaders encourage initiative and disciplined execution. Heroic acts of independent initiatives can occasionally score. But when aligned with the team’s goals and game plans, proactive moves are greatly magnified, can elevate the entire team and win championships.
The most valuable ideas can then receive proper support and investment. I’ve developed the following six steps to help you align an associate’s initiative with execution:
1. Develop a culture of innovation.
Encourage associates to come up with creative ideas and take initiative to propose solutions to current or anticipated needs or opportunities. I noticed that the leaders who surround themselves with talent able to challenge their thinking do much better in the long run than those who build teams with supporters who only agree with them. To foster a culture of innovation, encourage associates to explore ideas, evaluate recommendations openly, willingly support the best ideas and actively recognize initiative.
2. Sponsor innovation venues.
Sponsor venues for advancing innovative thinking where associates can explore creative solutions to anticipated needs or emerging opportunities. For example, you might consider sponsoring hackathons, idea contests, communities of practice, brainstorming sessions and pilot launches. These venues are the recognized forums for experimenting and vetting out new ideas. When someone indicates interest in pursuing an innovative concept, direct their interest into one of these venues.
3. Set an evaluation process.
Establish a process for evaluating innovative ideas based on their business impact and implementation feasibility. Prioritize the top picks with cross-functional input. Decide which ideas are a “Go,” “No-Go,” or “Need to Refine.”
4. Deploy agile teams.
Deploy agile teams to work on implementing approved and prioritized ideas within a defined scope and timeline. Empower agile team leaders to select key players to be team members. Give agile teams access to information and senior leaders. Set high expectations and tight timelines for project completion. Leverage agile teams to accelerate the execution of critical projects.
5. Establish progress checkpoints.
Have agile team leaders report directly to you and review progress with them regularly. Establish formal checkpoints at least monthly or as project milestones are completed to decide whether to continue or stop pursuing the innovation. Ask team leaders to measure and report the value of the project to the business.
6. Offer rewards and recognition.
Ensure that everyone receives the appropriate recognition for their contributions, even if their ideas are not being implemented. Those whose ideas are approved and implemented can receive additional forms of recognition, advancement opportunities and, in the case of measurable business impact, include financial rewards.
It is important to note that the most innovative organizations are very disciplined in idea generation, evaluation and execution. They welcome ideas and encourage initiative. Yet, they also have rigorous processes in place for vetting, evaluating, implementing and measuring performance along the way.
As an associate, when you see an opportunity to make a valuable contribution, think about how it could be widely accepted, prioritized and implemented. Assess who needs to be involved and in what order. Practice the art of influence. Getting things done fast might seem to save time, but in the long run, it might take much longer than getting things done right.
social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #thisisnotapost #thisisart