How to Involve Employees and Encouraging Initiative

By Bob Nelson

When you arm employees with more frequent and relevant information, they’re more likely to act on that information in ways that can best help the organization. Honest and open communication shows that you as a manager have both trust and respect for your employees.

You can build on that foundation by explicitly requesting and encouraging your employees to get involved in helping the company. This alone can lead to profound results, from improved daily operations to a better bottom line.

According to a survey of employees in a variety of industries, 92 percent of employees want their managers to ask for their opinions and ideas at work, and more than 89 percent want their managers to involve them in decisions that are made at work. This discussion explores ways for you to become a more engaged manager with engaged employees who share their ideas and opinions and have some input in decision-making.

Guiding employee focus

Today’s managers are discovering that they have to create an environment that encourages employees to contribute their best ideas and work, to help seek out new opportunities, such as new sources of revenue, and to overcome obstacles facing the company, such as cutting costs, wherever possible. Workers are discovering that, if they expect to survive the constant waves of change sweeping across the global business marketplace as well as hold onto their current jobs, they have to join with other employees to contribute to their organizations in ways that they’ve never before been called upon to do.

Managers need to discuss the following topics with their employees:

  • Employee impact: Are employees aware of how they impact the company’s bottom line, that is, how their jobs financially impact the organization?

  • Revenue-generating ideas: How can the company generate additional income? Whether it’s new fees, cross-selling, or up-selling, what new ideas could be tried?

  • Cost-savings suggestions: How can costs be trimmed, delayed, or eliminated? Which expenses are critical and which are optional and could at least be cut temporarily?

  • Process improvements: What steps in the organization’s processes can be streamlined, saving time, resources, and money along the way?

  • Customer needs and requests: How can employees help others in the company who are focused on customer needs and requests? How can customers’ needs be further explored?

  • New products or services: What ideas exist for new products or services? How could those ideas be better developed and implemented?

  • Morale and teambuilding: Who is interested in helping to improve employee teamwork and morale? How can this be done at little cost?

  • Virtual employees: How can virtual employees be better utilized by and integrated into the organization?

Asking employees for their input and ideas

Most organizations claim they have an open door policy, in which employees are encouraged to speak to their managers about any concerns, ideas, or suggestions they have. In practice, however, this policy doesn’t always work very well if, at the point of interaction, one’s manager is not receptive to the input.

Soliciting ideas needs to be a constant, ongoing strategy. Conducting employee surveys and asking staff questions in a meeting is a start, but to maximize buy-in and motivation, you need to challenge your employees to identify ways to improve on an ongoing basis.

Employee engagement should be both a philosophy and a practice. Employees need to understand that you need their efforts now more than ever before, and then you need to create new mechanisms that inspire their ongoing involvement to improve.

Would you like more ideas from your employees? Most companies do little, if anything, to get ideas from their employees. Or if they do decide to take action, it’s in the form of a suggestion box that’s placed in the lunchroom with (for some reason) a lock on it. The first dozen or so employees who submit suggestions, if they hear back at all, often receive a form letter months later that more or less states, “Here’s why we’re not using your silly idea . . . .” The result? The suggestion program grinds to a halt.

Involving employees in decision-making

When employees believe they have a hand in decision-making, companywide buy-in and participation is much easier to obtain. If the general consensus among staff is that decisions will be made with or without their input, the likelihood of anyone providing open and honest feedback is quite small. Asking employees for their input shows that you respect and trust them, and it likely increases the quality of the decisions being made.

Ultimately, the responsibility for any decisions that are made remains with the manager, so collecting input from employees doesn’t mean you’re obligated to use what’s shared in every instance.

No one knows how to better do a job than the person who is currently doing that job, so starting there makes sense. For example, if a reporting process is ineffective or costly, talk to the individual responsible for managing the process. Take the example of a receptionist at Champion Solutions Group in Florida, who received expense reports from field sales representatives via overnight delivery. When the company implemented her suggestion that the reports be faxed instead of shipped, it saw a 40 percent reduction in postage costs — and led company leaders to seek the advice of employees for other ways to realize cost savings.

Employees who offer solutions that result in cost savings need to be recognized for their efforts, especially if you want them to repeat that behavior or if you want to inspire others to do likewise. Incentives, such as bonuses, trips, or gift cards, not only reward the employee, but they also inspire others to develop cost-saving ideas of their own. Make the process fun and rewarding. Hold contests, departmental competitions, or other organized events to increase employee involvement and interaction. Ask employees for their buy-in on the type of incentives they value; they may want an extra vacation day or time to volunteer at a favorite charity.

Support for change can’t be acquired without involving employees, so you need to ensure that you give employees the opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process. Some simple ways to include employees follow:

  • Asking employees for their opinions on various matters of importance to the department

  • Inviting employees to actively participate in setting objectives and revising goals for the department

  • Establishing task forces made up of employees whose objective is to identify better ways to work