Innovator or dream breaker?


Managers are often surprised when they find out that their teams do not consider them approachable to discuss new ideas. They seem to operate under the assumption that sitting at their desk, nailed to their computer screens is conducive enough, as long as their office door remains open while they are doing so. Unfortunately looking busy all of the time makes your team members more reluctant to disturb you with a potentially trivial new idea and an open door policy entails much more than merely having you physical office door open, rather than closed.

Leaders need to start focusing more on cultivating an environment in which innovation can prosper. Consider the following to ascertain whether you are an innovator or a dream breaker.

Build trust

Are you someone that your colleagues and team members can trust? Can they comfortably be vulnerable in front of you? Can they risk looking stupid in front of you or will they be ridiculed? Can they trust you to really earnestly consider the idea? If you utilize their ideas, will you give them the recognition for it or steal it for yourself? If things do not work out, will you hang them out to dry or is it safe for them to experiment in a controlled way and even make mistakes? Carefully consider whether your behaviour, in practice, embeds trust and encourages others to open up to you or hide potential innovations from you instead.

Create opportunities

Management By Walking About (MBWA) is an ideal way of creating opportunities for team members to share their ideas with you. It entails spending time away from your desk, walking around and chatting to the other people in your building. The idea is that by doing this, you are moving into their territory and into their space… Just consider how much different you are in your own space than when you have been called into the proverbial principal’s office? While wandering around you can have a look at what your team members are busy with and you can have a chat with them about it and about whatever else may arise. MBWA creates the opportunity for value adding conversations to take place and through this practice of casual exchanges, you will unconsciously be extending an invitation to your team members to also come and brainstorm with you. As you wander around striking up conversations, it is an ideal time to ask people for input, feedback and ideas.

First impressions count

Getting people to take a chance on you is only a part of the challenge. How you respond once they do, is critical. Real innovators train themselves to respond to any new idea with the following four questions:

  • How can we benefit?
  • By first focusing on the potential benefits, you are more likely to want to see the idea turned into a reality.
  • Do we want it to be possible?
  • By admitting to yourself that you want to find a way to turn the idea into a reality, you are also making a commitment to find a way.
  • How can we go even bigger and better? Don’t just settle for what is staring you right in the face. Consider how you can take the current idea that you are playing with and turn it into something that can yield even better results than initially anticipated. It is an ideal point in the process to involve others to join you in a brainstorming process around the idea.
  • How can we make this work for us?
  • It is only now that you should start to consider the practicalities of implementation and the main focus should remain on taking action. How quickly can we start to enjoy even some partial benefit if not the full benefit immediately?

The long term success of businesses is directly dependant on their ability to access the full potential of their employees. By getting them to share their ideas freely and helping them to turn their ideas into reality, you will be sure to stay a step ahead of the competition as innovator and not cease to exist because you were a dream breaker.

Su-Mari du Bruyn

About the author

Su-Mari Du Bruyn is co-founder of the company Adapt To Change and author of the e-book business guide, The Power to Ignite. She is a qualified HR practitioner and logistics specialist and is passionate about Continuous Improvement and people development. Through Adapt To Change she assists businesses to improve their business performance and better engage their staff.

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Issue 58