Encouraging initiative, Part 2

Last week, we broached the subject of encouraging initiative in your employees. Bob Nelson, an expert on motivating and inspiring employees, says that in order to encourage initiative in your folks, you have to give them guidelines and goals on how they can do it - without telling them what to do.

One example of that practice is Intel's concept of "intellectual honesty," Nelson says. If any employee at the company sees something that doesn't make sense, he or she is expected to challenge their boss, co-worker or team about the issue. Intel wants this feedback and because it encourages it, it receives it, as well as the initiative it sought to create.

Nelson says another company that excels in setting guidelines for employees is W.L. Gore & Associates, which makes the all-weather fabric Gore-Tex. The company tells employees to judge their initiative against whether it's above or below the water line.

"If you have a decision to make in your job that's above the water line and you make a mistake, we're not going to sink or take on water," he says. If the decision is below the water line, however, and a mistake or incorrect decision could cause the company a client or something equally important - in essence to sink - the employee knows to get broader buy-in.

Initiative is pushing authority down to the lowest levels, which is what many companies say they need today in order to react quickly to change, Nelson says. "Most change happening in organizations today is not happening because change is fun.

Change is wrenching," he says. "Change is happening in response to what is happening in the marketplace, to be responsive to customers and their changing needs, to being faster to market with new ideas, proposals and bids."

Encouraging employees to take initiative, and most importantly, giving them guidelines against which to judge their efforts, can be key to getting your company first to market with a product, first in line with a bid or simply just first.

Next week, we'll look at the other important action in encouraging initiative - rewards and recognition.

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