Fear can be a debilitating, even crippling, emotion. When fear creeps into the workplace, whether it’s fear of making a mistake, fear of being fired or fear of conflict, it leads to decreased productivity and a lack of innovation.
Luckily, as CEOs and managers, we can help employees conquer their fears and push their innovation forward. By establishing a strong sense of trust in your employees, broadening employee job descriptions and encouraging experimentation, you can help timid employees discover a new sense of confidence in the workplace. One of my most valued employees, Kendrick Hair, is a good example of someone who has excelled in this type of environment.
Reinforce trust. Kendrick joined our company about 12 years ago. At that time, this newly married 24-year-old was ambitious and wanted to learn the software business, but he had no experience. We were expanding quickly, and I was impressed by his intelligence, ability, charisma and great attitude—so I decided to give him a chance. I placed him in the software support department, and he quickly became the go-to guy among the people in his department. He was the first person I trusted to do an on-site implementation with a customer. Today, Kendrick has the confidence to go to clients all over the world and help them set up a more efficient workflow. Software support is now the largest department in the company, and it all began with my trust in his innate abilities.
CEOs must trust their employees’ inherent powers and strengths. When CEOs regard and treat their employees as fully creative and capable, those employees shed the cloud of fear, deliver their finest ideas and care about each other and their customers.
“The innovation process requires considerable amounts of trust. Without it, the process is unlikely to produce much more than incremental innovation,” said Jeffrey Baumgartner, author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master. “Worse, great ideas devised by employees are likely to be taken elsewhere for implementation. Indeed, in an innovation survey published by PriceWaterhouseCoopers in the early 2000s, trust was identified as a key characteristic of innovative companies. It is not hard to see why.”
Leaders who genuinely trust their people believe that employees already have all of the power they need within them. They communicate that they trust them to use their power honorably and well.
Broaden job descriptions. Kendrick brought vitality and growth to the software support department. Then, a few years ago, he came to me and said he wanted to join the development team. He had no software development experience, but he felt he could benefit the development process by communicating the issues that the support department repeatedly handled. While the developers initially pushed back on Kendrick’s ideas, he patiently yet persistently showed them how to build exactly what clients needed.
Job descriptions that pigeonhole employees into their assigned job duties, and don’t allow them to explore other departments or invite cross-training, can hamper their innovative abilities.
“Job descriptions … reduce the role of people to a narrowly defined set of activities and small goals,” said innovation expert Jim Carroll. “I’ve encountered few organizations where innovation success is actually enshrined into the job description, let alone the HR reward system.”
By allowing employees to learn about every department in the company, collaborate across departments, and invite discussions and even workgroups to evaluate overall company practices, you ensure your employees will be more apt to vocalize their innovative ideas. Kendrick did this, and Fishbowl benefited. Today, because of Kendrick’s leadership, the development team is making a better product at four times the speed.
Allow for experimentation. Fearful employees will never experiment. In an environment of trust, however, where individuals and teams are encouraged to explore, create, and try new approaches, that freedom will lead to new opportunities for innovation while eliminating chastisement when mistakes are made.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who characterizes his company as an “invention machine,” has noted that organizations weaken themselves most through sins of omission, primarily their failure to experiment. Why do they not experiment? Yet again, the fear of making mistakes. Experiments—and failures—are vital.
It’s a remarkable experience to watch how one individual can change an entire organization. Kendrick Hair did this for Fishbowl. I’ve never seen another individual so fearlessly make such a significant difference to an organization. Like Kendrick, employees who feel supported and appreciated with encouragement to experiment will feel sufficiently secure to devote their full energy, creativity, and passion to the company and its goals. They will naturally innovate in every area within their influence. And great results will follow.
This article was written by David K. Williams from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.