How well do you SHOW openness to ideas?
The many leaders I talk to will say that they are in the market for new ideas. AT THE SAME TIME many of the people I talk to in organizations, will say that they feel that their opinions don’t really matter that much. So, on one hand you have leaders who want ideas and on the other you often have people in the organization who may hesitate to offer ideas.
That’s not an ideal situation if you want your organization to innovate at its full potential.
How to bridge the divide?
First, leaders need to remember that they cannot just SAY they value new ideas, they need to SHOW that they value ideas.
Here are THREE ideas to show you REALLY value ideas:
- Handle half-baked ideas well. It’s a heck of a lot easier to show interest in a stellar idea than a mediocre one. But in order to get the best ideas, leaders will need to be able to handle mediocre or even half-baked ideas well. This means listening and helping people develop their idea or to get it to a next step. Leaders do not need to feel compelled to say yes or no in the moment. Make sure the attempt to offer a suggestion turns into a conversation and not simply an up or down vote.
- Acknowledge the person behind the idea. Ideas are great, but it is the person and their character traits that enabled the idea in the first place. Instead of simply saying “thanks for the great suggestion” (which is good), try saying “thanks for the great suggestion, I really appreciate how you can take all that detail and turn it into big-picture thinking” (which is a lot better). The difference is that the idea AND the person are acknowledged.
- ASK for and LISTEN to ideas. Some people will need some prompting. Past experiences (maybe with you, maybe with past leaders) have conditioned them to not be forthcoming with suggestions. If you have people that do not offer much, tell them at your next meeting, in addition to the normal items, you also want to hear their perspectives. This will prime the pump a bit and allow them to be ready. THEN in the meeting, listen. Let them explain. Don’t talk over. Ask questions. Don’t feel you need to have all the answers or need to add a lot of value initially.
If these ideas seem easy, they are. But they are also powerful ways to support the cultures of innovation we all aspire to, but don’t see as much as we would hope.