Enabling Employees to Do What They Want to Do

Evan Hackel

“Why don’t employees do what we tell them to do?” is a question we hear a lot in business.

It implies that employees are intentionally misbehaving, frustrating company leaders, and ignoring instructions. It also implies that they think they have a better idea of what they should be doing than company leaders do.

But here’s a question to ask . . .

What if employees really do have a better idea of what they should be doing than company leaders do?

What if they really do know better? It’s a problem that has become common in many companies today. It occurs when management systematically ignores employees and stifles their best ideas. And do you know what? When that pattern takes hold, employees really do become ornery and subversive, wouldn’t you?

If that is what is happening in your company, the fault probably lies with you, not with your employees.

Ingaged Leadership Offers a Better Way

What is Ingaged Leadership? It is a leadership practice in which leaders invite everyone to not just follow directions and work hard, but to commit their best ideas, ambitions, emotions and even their hearts to a partnership with your company.

That sounds like high philosophy, but putting it into practice is very practical and do-able if you begin to think and act in these ways . . .

  • Expect other people’s ideas to be as good, or probably better, than yours – even if you might outrank them or be a top executive.
  • Strive constantly to find ways to prove that other people are right . . . not wrong.
  • Begin an active program of soliciting ideas in company-wide forums or other settings. Delayer as much as possible so that everyone can bring ideas directly to company leaders, not to their supervisors for filtering and killing.
  • Acknowledge and use ideas from people at all levels in your organization. You cannot use every idea or suggestion of course, but do acknowledge ideas and let people know they have been heard. They will become more invested in their work and your entire organization will improve and grow.
  • Allow people to try things that they believe deeply in, even if you have doubts. Cultivate the ability to think, “Maybe I am wrong.” Remember that the most important thing is for your organization to be right . . . not you.
  • Permit people as much autonomy as you can, so they set their own priorities and make their own decisions. The more you can stop telling people what to do and let them decide for themselves, the more you free your company to grow.
  • Cultivate the ability to ask for help when you need it. And offer help freely when you see the need. Help flows both ways, and it rejuvenates companies.
  • Consider having everyone in your organization – including company leaders – take part in 360ᴼ job reviews in which they are reviewed by their peers and the people they supervise. Share that feedback with everyone in your organization.
  • Invite everyone to contribute to, define and refine your company’s mission and vision. One effective way is to start meetings by asking people to state the company’s vision, using their own words. In this way, people become invested in what your company is, and in what it is becoming.
  • Surround yourself with people with different skill sets who will challenge you. Also, avoid the temptation to build a team of “yes people” who only tell you positive things about your ideas and plans. The right kind of disagreement brings greater progress.
  • Invest lavish labor to build a positive company culture where people respect each other, expect the best, and communicate in ways that convey the underlying belief that, “We can do this.”
  • Work hard to model and cultivate a positive attitude in your company. Attitude is a multiplier. One person with a negative attitude can literally cripple your company. But even one person with a positive outlook can help lead your organization to new levels of achievement, profitability and success.

A Company of Equals

Why should you strive to build an organization where everyone gets to do what he or she wants, not what they are told? It’s a rather utopian goal, isn’t it, maybe impractical?  No, it is a practical goal – perhaps the most practical of all, because it frees people to bring their best to their jobs and achieve results.

Try it and you will like it, as the old saying goes. Try it, and don’t be surprised if you are astonished by the results you achieve.


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