Samuel Oedman was a prestigious professor in Sweden, who specialised in arctic zoology in the late 18th century. He was a prolific writer, yet his career was held back because of one thing: fear.
His years of study had created a fear of catching a cold, which drove him to becoming a self-chosen shut-in for the last 23 years of his life. He spent this time in bed, terrified that if he ventured outside he would get sick. Ironically, in 1829 a neighbour came to visit but ventured in to Samuel’s room with snow on his clothes. The sight of this sent Samuel into a panic attack, which later led to his death.
Although the fear of sickness may not be prevalent in your organisation, the common workplace attack of Kakorrhaphiophobia (fear of failure) may strike amongst your employees. Recent research published in the Reader’s Digest in 2009 revealed that 21% of Australians fear losing their job in the next three months.
This fear results in employees who do their jobs to maintain the status quo, but will not take a risk at learning new ideas or developing innovations to increase efficiency, for fear of failure.
Imagine an organisations where the employees felt empowered and took ownership of the business culture that surrounded them.
Imagine if your employees developed new ideas of their own accord, and suggested improvements to products and services because they cared about the organisation.
Imagine what the workplace culture would feel like, and the innovations that would happen.
The Harvard Business Review (December, 2012) refers to the case of JetBlue Airways, a US-based airline. After a six hour weather delay at JFK International Airport, JetBlue’s services were disrupted for the next six days. The director of planning, Bonny Simi, recognised that this was not a good model, so decided innovation was needed.
Instead of meeting with top-level executives, Bonny gathered a group of 120 frontline employees - pilots, flight attendants, ramp workers etc. She then posed the problem to this group, and by the end of one working day had more than a thousand innovative ideas to improve their services. JetBlue now recovers from delays and disruptions much faster than it ever has before.
There is formal training available to assist you in empowering your employees, but here are some initial tips:
Many employees do not go beyond their job description and requirements simply because they have never been given the opportunity to do so. As a leader, part of a manager’s role is to up-skill and develop their employees - and one of the fastest ways to do this is by increasing their responsibility.
Consider projects that you are working on that could be delegated to your employees, and then hand them responsibility, whilst still being available to consult and guide.
Follow Someone’s Lead
One of the most important skills in being an excellent leader is the ability to listen well. Many leader’s unintentionally devalue their employees by not listening to their ideas, and by creating a reputation of only using ideas that they themselves develop (or worse, stealing ideas from others and claiming them as their own).
An organisation with a healthy learning culture, however, learns to pursue ideas that are created by others. Engage your team in early planning stages, and ask for their ideas as to how to develop your organisation. When you hear an idea that has value, pursue it - whilst giving credit to the person who created the idea.
If you can create a reputation as a leader who listens to their followers, and acts wisely - you are a long way towards creating an innovative culture in your organisation.
The words we use create the world we inhabit.
When ideas are being communicated and tentative suggestions are put forward, make sure you use building language to enhance the innovative culture that is being produced. For example, begin sentences with, “I wonder...” or “I like...” when ideas are initially being communicated. Look for the good in each idea, and encourage it to be developed further. Avoid negative talk, “That will never work”. This tip may sound simple, but it can revolutionise the learning culture in your organisation.