“To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.” –Doug Conant

Innovation, the heartbeat of adaptation and resiliency in today’s business world is the coveted Holy Grail by business industry leaders.  Staying one step ahead of your competitors, adapting to changes within the market environment and developing strategy to be relevant in the next 5 years is a requirement for success.  The secret sauce, however, lies not only in a prophetic CEO but in engaging and taping into the reservoirs of the life blood of the company….the people. How does a leader engage and inspire the people who do the work to improve the work to be meaningful, efficient and strategic?

Create a culture of “Yes”. Traditional hierarchical corporate cultures may shudder at the idea …industry was built heavily on chain of command and  directive instruction.  “I am the boss, therefore I must know the best way to do the work”! Right? Wrong! What exactly is a culture of “Yes”?  A culture of “Yes” means  “I hear you, I appreciate your suggestions for improvement, let’s explore that possibility” and subsequently ensures that both the worker team and the leaders test the hypothesis.

Opposers may fear a culture of “Yes” means agreeing to every suggestion made to the detriment of the big picture view.  Quite the contrary, as employees feel validated in exploring their own solutions to the everyday barriers at work ,they begin to feel free to explore possibilities without fear of embarrassment should the suggestion not pan out effective. A culture of “Yes” fuels employee engagement.  According to The Harvard Business Review employees that have the autonomy to do their jobs, learn and grow everyday, and feel good about the impact that they make at work are not only engaged but are inspired to seek meaning from their company’s mission statement and inspired by their leaders.  The biggest non-surprise: Harvard Business Review states that on a 100% Productivity index where “satisfied” employees are 100% productive to their capability , “inspired” employees are 225% productive on the same scale.

Creating a culture of “Yes”, seemingly complex by its elusive definition, is really quite simple.

  1. Hardwire a daily touch point with end user employees and their direct leadership.  As a group, have the leader inquire as to safety, equipment, productivity barriers that are “in the way” of the work expectations.
  2. Catalog barriers transparently, either on a visual tracking board visible in the team workplace, or an electronic share point site visible by the team  to create accountability and track progress on ideas/concerns shared.
  3. Assign ownership to problem solving to team members themselves with leadership’s primary role to remove barriers, escalate concerns, and disseminating big picture vision of the impact of ideas generated.  No idea is dismissed at first pass.  The freedom that comes with team brainstorming supports all ideas, no matter the validity.
  4. Celebrate Wins and Ideas Completed giving credit to those who problem solved and drove the initiatives.  Recognizing team members for contributions to the work team as a whole is paramount to creating a “Yes” culture.
  5. Respect the Ideas that disruptors bring to the table.   Although it can be difficult to hear concerns expressed in a complainant manner, embracing differing opinions will dilute “group think” and challenge the status quo of daily operations.

Front line staff are the experts to the work they do everyday.   Respecting and embracing their ideas to improve their work not only makes good business sense, it supports the foundation of strong leadership. Shared Governance Leadership, one that supports the innovation and exploration of “boots on the ground” resources taps into the most precious commodity leaders possess.  The challenge in  of creating a culture of “Yes” is  not to fear the empowerment it creates within the team, but to fear the apathy that a “No” culture breeds.