Recently, I was asked a great question: If you want to be the kind of leader who encourages the flow of ideas and feedback, how do you keep your team members from getting discouraged when their idea didn’t make the cut?
After all, it’s simply not possible to implement everyone’s idea or follow the timeline they would want. It would be complete chaos if you tried; not to mention that in a big box of ideas, you’re going to get some great ones, some half-baked ones and a few rotten apples.
The key is neither to ignore the emotions nor let them run the show. Rather, create an environment of continuous innovation and improvement that puts ego on the sidelines.
Let’s start with something I truly believe: The people closest to a problem are often the people who have the best ideas about how to fix it. Your people on the front lines see most clearly where things break down, and many times they will have ingenious solutions. Here’s how you encourage them:
1. Ask. Solicit ideas for innovation and process improvement. “What could we be doing to make your job/this process/this project more efficient?” Ask your team to identify the greatest inefficiencies, roadblocks and opportunities that, when addressed properly, will provide significant upside for your team and the company.
2. Make it a habit. Ideation has to become part of your regular routine as a leader, not something that’s done once or twice a year. When you do it all the time, eventually everyone will have an idea implemented, which cuts down on feeling sidelined. Plus, everyone will start to develop a keen sense about which ideas have real value and which ones produce less value. An easy way to evaluate an idea is to monetize the outcome. Generally speaking, the best, most impactful ideas will produce the greatest financial result (improved efficiency and/or growth). When people evaluate ideas through this lens, emotions tend to melt away and the collective business sense tends to grow.
3. Build visibility into the decision-making process and then communicate. Think of a brainstorming session where the whole group contributes ideas that get written on a whiteboard. Visually, you can highlight which ideas the group has consensus on by marking them with stickers reflecting the ideas generating the most support. Having that visual representation of team consensus helps keep bigger egos in check and creates greater clarity within the team around what constitutes a good idea.
Once the brainstorming ends and the planning begins, be intentional about your communications. Intellectually speaking, your team has a need to know the plan and the reasons behind the direction and the decisions. This is critical if you wish to create and maintain a highly engaged and high-performing team.
Remind your team that everyone’s insight and ideas are valued. Educate your team regarding the potential positive and negative consequences behind various decisions and priorities. And remember that sometimes you have to slow down to speed up. Slow down to communicate and educate your team and in return, your informed and engaged team will create significant momentum, which translates into meaningful competitive advantage and growth.
4. Tailor your approach. Every company has quiet people and big personalities. No matter how well you encourage balanced participation, it’s possible that you’ll have brilliant people who never feel entirely comfortable speaking up in a group. In those cases, I might pull the quieter person into my office periodically, letting them know that I and others value their intellect and would like their thoughts on a particular challenge. This gives me the opportunity to remind them of their value, grow their confidence and encourage them to contribute in the larger group discussions.
The message that everyone’s input is valued must become part of the cultural DNA of your organization. That doesn’t mean everyone’s idea will always be selected, but that each person’s intellect and contribution adds to the greatness of the organization.
When you’re contributing, it feels good when the team likes your idea. Conversely, it can feel bad when they don’t. The above process can help. By soliciting feedback, making ideation a habit, building transparency into your decision-making process, and tailoring your approach, you can create an environment where people know that their input is always valued.