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Lead Your Team Managing

If You Listen Up, Your Employees Will Step Up

If You Listen Up, Your Employees Will Step Up


If you want your workers to take a more active role in your business, you need to listen to what they say, a new study shows. The No. 1 reason employees don't take more initiative at work, the study shows, is that their leaders fail to get their input before making decisions.

The study, conducted by John Izzo, author of the new book, "Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything” (Berrett-Koehler, 2012), defined stepping up as "taking initiative to make the company better, including bringing up new ideas, suggesting better ways of doing business, and taking high levels of effort to improve the organization's services.

Sixty-four percent of the 675 professional workers in the U.S. and Canada who were polled said that "leaders making decisions without seeking input" was the biggest problem.

"The bottom line is that people want a seat at the table," Izzo said. "When decisions are made without getting input from people, they tend to hold back their ideas and take less initiative to make improvement."

Another big factor in keeping people from stepping up is how leaders react to employee ideas and input. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said that "leaders dismissing ideas without exploring these ideas" is the second biggest reason why people won't take initiative.

Another 26 percent cited "people not getting rewarded or recognized for playing outside the lines" as a critical factor keeping people from stepping up.

"Companies that want more initiative and for employees to bring more of their ideas to work need to regularly recognize people who are constructive irritants or who take initiative even if they break the rules a little," Izzo said.

Having a company culture where people will bring their ideas to work has been associated with many important outcomes in such areas as productivity, employee engagement, retention and innovation. One of the best examples Izzo cites is the development of the Starbucks frappuccino. The idea for the drink was first suggested by some frontline employees and a store manager in Southern California. When the idea made its way to the corporate offices at Starbucks it was rejected. Yet one manager encouraged the store to experiment anyway, and the result was a billion-dollar product for Starbucks.

"This is something we see time and time again," he said. "When leaders involve people in decisions and value people's ideas, resistance turns into productive energy."

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.

Ned Smith
Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.