7 tips to begin earning employees' commitment, initiative and motivation

"I wish my employees would be less negative toward these organizational changes."

"If I could just get my employees to be more motivated…"

Managers who want their employees to demonstrate more ownership and initiative need to start by looking in the mirror. Most employees start a new job filled with cheerful optimism, and over time, some learn that their ideas aren’t valued or they are better off just doing what they are told.

Obviously, negative, resistant employees can develop those behaviors on their own, thank you very much. But, often, managers only point the finger at employees if they lack initiative and commitment, rather than taking responsibility for the role they play. It reminds me of a sign I saw at a car wash: "If you think our employees aren’t motivated, you should see them at quitting time." The hard reality is that half of the employee ownership equation belongs to the manager.

So, how do you earn that commitment? Here are some day-to-day steps that will create the path:

Burn the suggestion box.

If your company has a suggestion box (especially one with a lock on it) it tells me one thing: you really don’t place a high priority on employee suggestions. Organizations that really want employee involvement don’t reduce it to a box on the wall. Instead, they make it a part of how they run the business. They expect managers to have problem-solving staff meetings. They hold regular state of the union, all-company meetings with discussion forums. They create cross-functional task forces and process improvement teams to work on real business problems.

They encourage upward evaluations.

Executives who truly want employees to give them ideas for making productivity improvements model the behavior themselves. They use informal and formal means to listen to employees tell them how management can do their jobs better to make employees’ work lives more effective. When employees see that executives and managers are willing to improve themselves, they realize that the culture is ready for all ideas.

Think out loud with your employees as you are forming a plan.

When you let employees follow your logic as you make a decision, it will spark new ideas as well as educate them about the results you are trying to achieve. Too often, managers just spit out a proclamation or dash off an email and people are left scratching their heads-and digging in their heels.

Encourage pot shots …at ideas, that is.

Take a moment from a problem-solving session and ask everyone to shoot holes in the plan. There’s nothing like having permission to play devil’s advocate to get a real handle on whether or not an action plan will work. It will also bring secret naysayers out of the weeds. (You know who I mean. The ones who nod in agreement during the meeting but who have absolutely no intention of following through.)

Play volleyball.

When a senior management team locks themselves away at an executive retreat for a few days, they hash out different opinions and come to some common ground. The problem, of course, is that the rest of the employees didn’t have the benefit of that discussion. One way to accomplish more understanding and buy in is to "serve" the idea to the next level and let them volley it and test it and even change it. If the idea is already set in concrete don’t try to fool people into thinking that they actually have say in modifying it. However, if you truly want to create employee ownership, facilitate discussions that encourage their input.

Survey employees but then use what they say.

If you don’t plan to act on the data you gather, don’t bother to ask for it in the first place. In fact, you’ll make it worse. Smart companies not only survey employees but also include focus groups to really understand the feelings and examples behind the numbers.

Have one-on-one meetings to get an employee’s input.

How do you feel when your manager calls you in to his or her office and says, "I’m really stuck on something and I could use your insight and advice?" Needless to say, this does more to build an employee’s sense of worth and contribution than forty "atta boys."

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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