If you Ask for Initiative, Grant it

‘Initiative’ is usually high on a manager’s list of traits they’d like to see in the workforce, but you may need to give that more thought in early 2010.

Be completely honest: Would you welcome initiative if you actually got it, or would it put you in the quandary of possibly having to turn it down? How often might you be saying “No, I’m afraid we can’t be doing that right now” to your staff, and killing their initiative in the process?

What says your Business Model?

Our “Great Recession” is demanding that our business models change to adjust to the changing habits of the consumer. It’s good news: Companies must be responsive to be successful, and we now have the opportunity to weave this innovative responsiveness into our organizational cultures.

More often than not, the strategies within a company’s business model would not be described as very democratic, and usually employees are fine with that: They don’t expect they have the right to speak into the basic strategy of how a business functions on the bread-and-butter level. Thus that’s not the level that their initiative gets to play out, and get brilliantly demonstrated.

Make room for what you ask for

That said, no manager is going to say, “You can take a break from demonstrating any initiative right now until we figure some things out.” Sounds silly doesn’t it.

And yet” that is exactly the impression we are giving many we have on staff. Those words may not specifically be voiced out loud, but business owners are still running their companies lean, and with a wait-and-see hesitancy which is killing much of the initiative we’ve seen in the past. “Let me check with my manager” is a phrase the customer is hearing much too often.

‘Initiative’ is a big word. It can be a bucket for so many different behaviours that are still aligned with your values though money may be tight and your business model is still in flux. So define it. Exactly what initiative would you like right now?

Talk about self-starting and systems fluctuation with your team, and break them down: What kinds of work initiative do you still wish to see them demonstrate on a daily basis? Instead of saying “no, don’t” or “please stop for now” look for ways to say “let’s try something new instead and see how it works.”

Please keep asking for new ideas, and give them some fertile soil in which they can germinate and take root instead of whither and die completely. Think of it as container gardening, until the business model decisions are done, signalling that time your now-budding seedlings can be moved to the flower beds.

Start where your customer will notice

When you have these discussions with your staff, I recommend you start with a focus on Ho‘okipa (hospitality) and the service they can, and should be providing. Much of it has to do with the sincerity and graciousness of effective communication, stuff that doesn’t cost you a dime, and are more about setting expectations, making them clear and consistent.

I encourage you to be quick with whatever decisions you may be making with your business model. However know that there is little reason for your staff to put their initiative on hold while you do so. If you do, it will be very difficult to start those energies up again.

sayalakai_rosasay My mana‘o [The Backstory of this posting]
Each Thursday I write a management posting for Say “Alaka‘i” at Hawai‘i’s newspaper The Honolulu Advertiser. Here is the link to the original article there: If you Ask for Initiative, Grant it.


  1. says

    Favorite manager quote when asked to define empowerment… “We empower you to ask us if its OK to move forward with an idea…”

    The frustration can get quite high when a manager doesn’t understand the mixed signals that come from demanding initiative, but then getting aggravated when things are done in unusual ways. Making sure you’re developing a learning environment where mistakes lead to learning can help free up folks to act on their own as well.
    .-= ´s last blog ..Planning for Serendipity ”“ Taking Flight =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      Exactly Fred! This posting was inspired by an employee speaking to me out of that frustration you mention, and “mixed signals” is a good way to describe it. Thank you so much for your comment.