Every now and then a member of our team will come to us with an idea of a new process, method or procedure to implement that they feel will get the job done better, or will be easier, or, in the best of cases, both. As leaders we often feel an internal conflict in this situation. We want to foster innovation, but also are concern the risks and resistance that come along with change. My advice is to encourage your team to innovate, with some actively engaged leadership on your part.
It can be difficult to determine sometimes if there really is a benefit to be gained by implementing a follower’s suggestions or if they are merely whining about the status quo. A simple way that I have found to find the answer is to allow the follower to implement the change, but to make them take the lead for implementing it, i.e. you will let them make their change, but they have to do all the research on how to make it happen, assess the potential benefits and risks, come up with the plan to train the rest of the team on how to implement the change, and measure how successful the change has been. Followers who are enthusiastic about the change will embrace the opportunity presented to them and the whiners will simply allow the status quo to continue.
As the boss, you’ll still need to provide them with appropriate guidance and direction as they develop their plan. You should let them know up front what you consider a successful outcome would be as well as any risks that you believe are unacceptable to assume in this endeavor. You should be clear if there are other processes or procedures that are off-limits to change as they consider their path forward.
Set a definite time and date that they need to come back to you to review their progress and decide if you will go forward with their initiative. Give them a list of items they must address in that review to get your go-ahead.
Once you’re ready to let them implement, don’t immediate throw out the old way of doing things in favor of this one. If possible, run parallel processes and compare the results of the two ways of doing things. This will definitely be a little more work, but may be worth it to be able to compare your results. If parallel efforts aren’t possible, set a clear trial period, such as a month or 90 days to assess the results. Make sure the person proposing the initiative determines how to measure if the new method is successful and that you approve of the assessment.
If, after the trial period, the new way is clearly superior, or easier to accomplish, or has some other benefits, adopt the new method. If the new method was not successful, perform an honest assessment with the proposer of where it fell short, what lessons learned came of it, and if addressing those issues could result in a successful outcome. If the answer is yes, let them go back, make the adjustments, re-propose and try again.
What are other ways you’ve fostered innovation on your team while still managing risk?