Home Corporate Culture Oh, and another thing (about showing initiative)

Oh, and another thing (about showing initiative)

Our last posting talked about the oft-heard complaint, “Why doesn’t anyone ever show a little initiative around here?”  In it, we suggested that a company’s culture needs to make it “safe” for people to take some risks, be creative, and “show some initiative.”  We also noted that a company’s values, that collectively make up its culture, should be a framework that guides people in deciding where risks are acceptable and where they are not.  However, even when they’re operating within the company’s value structure, well-meaning people trying to show appropriate initiative can still get themselves into trouble.  So there must a better guidance system than values alone provide.  For some ideas on this, please read below.

I saw an article recently in which the writer likened a high performing company to a winning rowing team . . . eight rowers and a coxswain all perfectly synchronized and coordinated.  In a business setting, this is called “organizational alignment” which means everyone is pulling together, supporting one another, and focusing on the same goal.  So it’s hard to argue with the logic of “organizational alignment.”  I mean, everyone operating in lockstep like a well-oiled machine is going to result in an efficient and effective operation, right?

Yeah, but it doesn’t sound like that’s an atmosphere that would tolerate showing initiative . . . taking a few chances, being creative, going off the reservation a bit.  So how do we balance “organizational alignment” with “showing some initiative?”  Here are some thoughts.

Assuming you have set some broad, strategic corporate goals (as you should), those must remain inviolate.  For instance, if you have set a corporate course for New York, you don’t want someone to “show initiative” by steering for Dallas instead.  This is where the organizational alignment piece fits in.  If we’ve decided we’re going to New York, then all of us have to work together to get us there.  But how we get there is a different matter.  Here’s where there’s room for some creativity, experimentation, and initiative.  We can take the most direct route, or we can take the scenic route.  We can go by plane, train, automobile, or bus.  So let your people know the outcome you expect, but let them have some fun figuring out how accomplish it.

Still a little too free-wheeling for you?  Then set up a vetting process for people to “sell” their creative ideas for getting to New York before implementing them.  This vetting process can be either one-on-one with you or before a group of their peers . . . whatever works best for you and your team.  The important thing is, we want to encourage, not stifle, creative thinking, reasonable risk-taking, and “showing some initiative.”

To summarize then, we can’t have everyone freelancing whenever and however the mood moves them.  In that environment, we would have chaos and the company would have no cohesive direction.  So we need to set some boundaries, but do it in a way that is not overly confining and still gives people plenty of room to test their wings a little bit.  Do that, and you shouldn’t ever again have to ask yourself, “Why doesn’t anyone ever show a little initiative around here?”

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