Why aren’t people taking initiative?

Let’s change things up!” Maybe that’s a hack-week or a hack-few-days, or a team brainstorming offsite.

This could be paired with clear communication on the most up-to-date priorities.

Changing the status quo iteratively is more difficult than introducing a change element intentionally and setting up the appropriate rewards to incentivize the desired behavior.

Set up guard railsEmpowering people to take initiative does not mean a free-for-all.

If you’ve provided high-level alignment, you’ll also want some guard rails.

Some examples:Create a policy that experiments can be shipped to 2% of the user base, and must be analyzed and evaluated within 2 months.

Hold a hack-a-thon around a very specific goal (ex.

increase weekly return users), and allocate time and resources to build out the best prototypes in production.

Specify that 80% of an engineer’s time should go towards scoped projects, and the remaining 20% should go towards explorations or projects that also fulfill the team’s purpose.

Have engineers write up or present their explorations.

Reward behavior intentionallyAnother phenomenon in companies is that the loudest and most confident-seeming employees get to take initiative — or rather, they experience much less friction when they do, so people see them as leaders.

People who do not fit that mold generally experience more pushback and questioning when they suggest something they feel is good for the company.

So make sure you are rewarding behavior in a way that is fair.

You may also want to consult with others to get a few more opinions.

If someone took the initiative to start some onboarding docs (good) but was a poor communicator and completely ignored the coding work she had committed to (not so good), be clear in private feedback about how to improve next time.

Similarly, if you’re managing managers, reward those managers who are successfully empowering their team through public praise or exciting opportunities.

If they’re doing it successfully, it may feel like they’re “doing less,” so pay attention.

Remember — whatever you reward publicly is what will be emulated.

1:1sOne-on-one meetings are a good time to monitor and nudge people in the right direction and debug any snafus in this process.

If you’re managing managers, have 1:1s with their reports on a less frequent schedule (sometimes called skip-level 1:1s) to prevent communication silos.

Identify emerging leaders and high-potential individuals, and encourage them in 1:1s to take more initiative.

As people bring up issues they’re encountering, coach them to think about what they would do, and encourage them to do so to help them make that mental leap from “someone else should do this” to “I should do this.

” Or you may discover that there are still some roadblocks for them that you can help remove.

You can do this in meetings as well to make the point in a more public setting.

Of course, all this is dependent on believing the premise that empowering individuals at all levels of an organization is something that is desirable and will be beneficial to the company.

If you find yourself questioning this premise, spend some time exploring why.

Is it a lack of trust?.Or insecurity that you’ll seem irrelevant?A command-and-control management philosophy is frankly not going to get you the best results from your team.

As L.

David Marquet writes in Turn the Ship Around,“Those who take orders usually run at half speed, underutilizing their imagination and initiative.


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