The days of strategies being generated solely from the top down are long gone.
In fact, you should worry when employees don't share ideas to solve company problems. It either means you have ineffective employees who aren't capable of contributing or you have employees who don't feel safe sharing their ideas. Either way, you're doomed as a company.
Companies grow through their ability to generate-- and execute on-- valuable ideas. If you don't have engaged employees contributing ideas, they'll struggle to implement others'. My work with companies is grounded in the fact that if you want employees to go beyond responsibility, they need to be coming to work with a deep sense of ownership.
People are more likely to be resilient when they're part of the original idea; this is a core tenet of taking ownership. My interviews with leaders of Inc. 5000 companies convinced me that most believe employees taking ownership is important or very important to company growth.
Turning Around a Company
One executive who faced a huge challenge was Steve Lucas. In an interview at this year's Adobe Summit Conference in Las Vegas, he talked about becoming CEO of Marketo in October 2016. As Marketo's CEO, Lucas led the company through a period of major transformation and spearheaded organization-wide growth, making Marketo the leading marketing automation software provider. He also led Marketo through the largest acquisition ever to Adobe.
When Lucas became CEO, Marketo produced a great product for B2B marketing automation. However, Lucas told me that not everything was positioned for growth. One major issue was Marketo's attrition rate: 59 percent annualized. More people were quitting than staying. Employee turnover, one of the important measures of company health, is a sign that something's going on under the hood.
Leaders must examine the drivers of employee engagement. One is your teammates' openness in sharing their ideas. Open idea sharing is an indicator of where you stand: The "leading" part gives you insight into what the future looks like. On the other hand, net profits will be a "lagging" indicator of the strategies you implement.
Here, three ways you can best position your company to foster an open environment for ideas:
1. Remove the fear of judgment.
For people to share their ideas, they can't feel judged. Trust is a prerequisite to leadership that adds value to the whole organization.
When he stepped in as CEO, Lucas said his employees weren't willing to share: "I can remember it was like pulling teeth to get people to give me ideas." Before Lucas took over, the company culture was top-down prescriptive. The previous leadership team directed employees; employees felt they were silently told their ideas weren't good enough.
2. Encourage sharing at all times.
Our brains are extremely powerful under the right circumstances. My own challenges aren't solved just because I sit down at a computer. In fact, my best ideas come when I'm not actively thinking about the problem or looking for a solution.
In a 2014 study, Stanford University researchers found walking boosts creative inspiration 60 percent more than sitting. The American Academy of Neurology's medical journal released a study in January indicating regular aerobic exercise may improve thinking skills not only in older people, but also for young people.
This means we can encourage our people to take walks or move around to think more clearly. Leaders should encourage employees to share ideas in any way they feel compelled. According to Lucas, "ideas on a Sunday are a strong indicator of the health of your business." This isn't about encouraging seven-day workweek-- it's about giving people space to share ideas when it's best for them.
3. Act on their ideas.
The most important driver of idea encouragement is deeply considering the ideas that flow in. Most leaders believe the right response is a quick "thank you" or "great idea." However, you get employees to openly share their ideas by acting on them.
This means actively listening to your people. Consider the impact of ideas as they come up. Engage others to collaborate when needed to improve ideas. Create experiences for employees to co-create ideas to make them more impactful. Commit resources to make their ideas work.
When you implement ideas from employees, others pay attention. People begin thinking ideas are heard. In turn, they're more likely to share their own insights.
When you start getting ideas on Sundays, you know you're leading others to think for themselves-- and that's the best sign of ownership you can find.