Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of underestimating their employees potential. Discover how you can unlock the entrepreneurs in your company and watch as they, and your company, grow.
Entrepreneurs are people who have both the will and the skill to project an idea or scheme into the future, and by backing their judgment with innovative action and persistence, turn that idea into reality. Who are the entrepreneurs in your company?
Many managers make the mistake of underestimating their staff’s potential, rarely asking them for input. Suggestion boxes end up covered in cobwebs as they lay dormant, waiting for a spark of inspiration to be dropped inside. When questioned the staff often say, “Why bother, they never listen to me anyway?” or an even worse reply “I just work here.”
Robert L. Schwartz tells us “the entrepreneur is essentially a visualiser and an actualiser.., she can visualise something, and when she visualises it, she sees exactly how to make it happen.”
Think what if often
What if once a month we had a think tank in each department - every staff member contributing actively. What if the think tank was facilitated by an outsider - someone who was not locked into “this is the way we do it here thinking” and actually challenged the way things are being done. What would happen?
What if some of the ideas required so little effort and expense, and when implemented increased job satisfaction and increased productivity? Increased productivity means an increased bottom line. What would happen?
In short the staff would be happier. The result, decreased absenteeism, happier workplace and more output. So let’s think for a moment, what if we tried this in our workplace? What if it worked?
One accounting firm invited me to brainstorm with their senior manager. As an outsider I was not privy to what could and could not be done. Although I had done my research, the partners basically wanted increased productivity, more billable hours… but how to achieve it. Once I had earned the groups trust and built rapport with the group of 20, I asked the question: “Thinking what if, what if you were made senior partner today, what changes would you make within the organisation?”
It took five to ten minutes for them to feel okay about answering. To assist this, I turned my back to them and faced the whiteboard and as the ideas flowed, wrote them down, making sure to acknowledge the idea with a “thanks, great, good idea.” Realising that one of the greatest fears people have is making a mistake in front of their peers, I made sure I did not overreact to any of the ideas, no matter how outrageous they were.
Prior to the exercise, I had explained that there are generally three sorts of ideas - outrageous, middle of the road and mainstream. When outrageous ideas go to the marketing department they become mainstream - let’s play safe, let’s stick with what we know, This is okay, if we want our company to be the same as everyone else’s. However, if we want to shine and lead our industry, we have to be prepared to try new things and sometimes break with tradition. Encourage outrageous ideas, modified they can become middle of the road ideas.
In thirty minutes we had come up with dozens of ideas. An example of one idea that had a very quick solution was “more desks”. “More desks, how many more desks do you need, what’s the problem?” It appeared that in one department many of the accountants were on assignment to a variety of clients, at times when three or four may have been in the office at once (this was happening at least once a week) and they all shared the one desk. Crazy stuff. The result; another manager mentioned that there were a number of desks spare in his area and they were welcome to take them. This situation had. been happening for over a year and no one had bothered to look for a solution. Productivity was down in that area, but what other result would you expect? Professional people not being given the basic tools to act professionally.
As a result of the brainstorming session we were able to come up with a list of concrete suggestions for improvements and a time frame on when 50 percent of those suggestions would be actioned. The other 50 percent had to be referred to the senior partners for action. Were the managers satisfied? Did this meeting exceed their expectations? Were they given acknowledgment for their ideas? Yes, yes, yes.
Most important of all, MANAGEMENT LISTENED TO THEM!
Equally as important, is that management take action on the suggestions or report back those that have been put on the back burner temporarily or indefinitely.
With another banking client, I ask the question, “What is your greatest time waster on the job?” Some of the answers were astounding… faulty equipment, antiquated computers taking too long to load, poor lighting, triple handling of documents. Again a list of recommendations was produced. Action could be taken almost immediately on 80 percent of the list. Result - happier staff, increased productivity.
We hear the phrase “work smarter not harder” bandied about. Brainstorming allows us to tap into the group creatively - not just the bosses. We can then collectively come up with ideas on how we can work smarter.
When there are staff freezes and cost cutting, staff are often reluctant to ask for improvements anticipating a “No”. Brainstorming gives them the opportunity to re-energise each other and come up with solutions.
No matter how small the company, brainstorming is effective. Where possible bringing in an outside facilitator has a powerful effect as they don’t buy in to the preconceived “this is the way we do it here”. Growing businesses today is really about growing your people. Giving them encouragement, recognition and delegating authority.
The success of away from home conferences is not totally dependant on the venue or the speakers. Rather the opportunity for the delegates to relax, get to know each other in informal situations and unofficially brainstorm with each other. When we are relaxed our creative juices flow. Brainstorming triggers that creative energy.
Watching a brainstorming session is quite stimulating. You can almost imagine a ball of energy being thrown from one person to another as the energy flows and the ideas flow. Even the shyest people get caught up in the excitement - make sure someone is writing down the ideas!
Tips for running effective brainstorming sessions to unlock your company entrepreneurs;
- sell the idea to staff members by asking for their help in solving “x,y,z” problems
- preferably use an area away from the normal work area eg. the boardroom or canteen
- it is important that everyone can see everyone’s face, circular groups work quite effectively
- put a time limit on the entire session and individual sectors
- delegate a scribe to write ideas as they flow
- acknowledge by initials R.G., B.G., where the idea came from encourage outrageous ideas
- bring in an outside facilitator if possible and allow time for this person to bond with the group
- have fun!! You may like to have a “bright spark” award for the best idea of the day -voted of course by the participants
- prepare an action plan at the end of the session with an agreed time frame.
- get back to the participants with the results
- diarise a date for your next brainstorming session
Before long you will be working smarter not harder. You will have unlocked a whole company of entrepreneurs who are growing your company as well as themselves, while they are lighting fires under your business.
By Robyn Henderson, author and publisher is regarded as Australia’s Networking Specialist.
Originally published in Her Business magazine.
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