If you want your business to stay viable, visible and competitive in the coming new year, it’s essential that your staff not only have a sense of ownership in that process but also be invited to show you what they’ve got in terms of untapped creativity and problem-solving skills. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for a risk-averse manager to use “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” as an argument to discourage initiative. By the time the breakage occurs – sometimes irreparably – the chance is often lost to hear solutions that may have been floating in the hallways all along and yet were never actively solicited.
Thinking Outside the (Suggestion) Box
If the drop-slot of your employee suggestion box is crisscrossed with cobwebs, it’s time to embrace a more interactive approach to feedback. Distribute questionnaires (with an option for anonymity) to gauge staff satisfaction levels with working conditions, procedures, policies, and perks/privileges. Demonstrate that you’re actually receptive to input by publishing the results in your company newsletter and using them as your talking points for the launch of a brainstorming task force. This strategy works well if the size of your organization precludes a full group meeting or if you’ve observed that workers are hesitant to speak out with suggestions for fear of rejection or reprisal.
Thought Bubble Diversity
Within any goal-oriented group – be it TV sitcom writers, nonprofit volunteers or corporate committees – there are typically four personality types: leaders, creative thinkers, analysts, and pleasers. If all the participants in your think-tank session are drawn from the same quadrant, don’t hold your breath for progress to ensue. Why? Because functionally they will cancel each other out: the leaders will grapple for power, the creative types will bounce off the walls, the analysts will scrutinize everything to death, and the pleasers – too timid to offend anyone – will assume the role of bobblehead yes-men. Likewise, if you’re exploring new ideas which will impact multiple departments, the reception to those ideas upon implementation will be a lot warmer if each division had a rep involved in the planning stages.
What do brainstorming meetings and elementary school classrooms have in common? They are either a scene of cacophonous pandemonium in which everyone talks at once or a setting wherein a handful of know-it-alls dominates the discussion and intimidates the rest into silence. For a brainstorming session to be effective, you must not only brush up on Robert’s Rules of Order (http://www.rulesonline.com) but encourage full participation as well. To get the conversation started, make sure everyone has a clear understanding of The Problem. In other words, what, exactly, are they there to solve? Next, have each participant write down his/her solution to the problem on a folded slip of paper and put it in a bowl. Each “anonymous author” idea is then drawn forth and written on a whiteboard for everyone to see. Start with the first idea listed and ask each participant’s opinion regarding that idea’s merits and flaws. Set a timer so no one is allowed to hog the stage with a filibuster. Rebuttals and interruptions are not allowed when someone has the floor. Ideas that accrue a higher number of negative hash tags are erased. Once you have gone around the entire room, start the process again, gradually whittling down the list – and incorporating modifications – until you arrive at a solution that everyone can agree with.
As energizing and empowering as these brainstorming techniques can be, however, an absence of sincerity – coupled with an unwillingness to compromise – is the quickest way to kill esprit de corps. Whether you’re requesting fresh ideas and then stealing them, trivializing contributions or ascribing value based on rank, or asking for input on a decision you’ve already made, it won’t take long for employees to start keeping their best thoughts to themselves or, worse, giving them to your competition.
Wherever you are in the world, here’s to a joyful holiday season and a spectacular 2016!
P.S. Will this be the year you decide to go into business for yourself? If so, you’ll want to add Office for One: The Sole Proprietor’s Survival Guide to your wish list. Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle, this indispensable resource is perfect for any entrepreneur who wants to go it alone without getting lonely.