Home Corporate Culture “Why doesn’t anyone ever show a little initiative around here?”

“Why doesn’t anyone ever show a little initiative around here?”

Have you ever said that to yourself?  Well, as it turns out, there is a reason people don’t take on challenges unless you direct them . . . and you’re probably looking at that reason every morning in the mirror.  If you really want people to take a few risks, be creative, and show a little entrepreneurial spirit, you can’t just hope for it or pay lip service to it.  You have to work at it, invest in it, and demonstrate it in highly visible ways.  For some thoughts on how to create an environment where people are willing to “show a little initiative,” please read below.

So why don’t (most) people show more initiative?  Simple.  It’s fear.  Fear of failure.  Fear of punishment if things go wrong.  Fear that the boss will lose faith in me.  Fear that I will lose respect among my peers.  Fear that a bad outcome will bite me in the wallet.  Lots of fears.  All kinds of them.  So when people see a problem or an opportunity, they’ll wait for the boss to tell them what to do because then, if the thing goes south, it’s the boss’s problem, right?

It’s all about leadership and trust.  The CEO has to set the tone, has to make it “safe” to fail once in awhile.  In fact, the message should be, if we’re not stubbing our toes here and there, we’re probably not challenging and pushing ourselves enough.  So rather than treat a failure as something icky like roadkill, let’s celebrate it as a learning experience.  Treat it like a case study.  Here’s what we did, here’s why we did it, here’s what we thought would happen, and here’s what actually happened.  OK, so what did we learn from that?  The CEO must guard against finger pointing and anyone playing the blame game.  Even more than that, he or she must model the behavior.  The CEO may say that mistakes and failures are expected when you’re showing initiative, but no one will believe it until they see the CEO do it.

Keep in mind, we’re not talking mistakes or failures that come from carelessness, laziness, inattention, or ineptitude.  Obviously, we don’t want to celebrate those kinds of problems.  No, we’re talking about well-intentioned people, jumping into foreign situations, and doing their best to get a favorable outcome.

A key to making it “safe” for people to show initiative is to have strong corporate values, the sum of which make up your corporate culture.  Your people have to know and understand those values so they become the framework for them to make decisions and engage in activities without fearing that those decisions and activities will get them in trouble.  In fact, if you’re not confident that you have a set of values in place that are known and understood by everyone, you probably should start there before you push “taking initiative” too hard.  Without a firm grasp of those values to guide them, your people will just be winging it and you will probably get some unwelcome outcomes.

Taking initiative means stepping out of your comfort zone, engaging in problems or opportunities you haven’t engaged in before.  Mistakes and failures will happen along the way.  It’s inevitable.  But it’s on-the-job training and it’s the nature of learning what works and what doesn’t work.  Allowing people to be creative, to take risks, and to take initiatives can be expensive in both time and money, but it’s worth it.  It helps your people grow and develop entrepreneurial instincts so that ultimately, they can help you grow your business.

Is freeing your people to be creative and to take risks a little scary?  Is all this “values” stuff a little foreign to you?  Call me.  We should talk.

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