10 ways to get employees to take initiative

Every new success starts with a creative idea and the implementation of it. It’s all about the combination between thinking creatively and doing things differently. Knowing that you can make a difference isn’t necessarily the same thing as acting upon it. Employees often know that they have to change or do something else, yet they refuse or are terrified to do so. Having employees with creative ideas is great, yet how do you get them to take initiative? How do you get them from the thinking phase into the doing phase? Below you can find 10 ways to stimulate people to get out of their comfort zone and into a creative, constructive and proactive attitude.


1. Set an exciting goal

It gives energy to work on an ambitious challenge. Working towards a point on the horizon helps to stay motivated. Explain why you want employees to do things differently. It’s great to have a vision, yet it’s equally important to make things concrete and tangible. If you’re working in a hospital environment, for instance, don’t talk about creating a better service or making fewer mistakes. Instead, talk about saving lives or making sure that patients will be able to come home sooner to rejoin their families.

2. Make it personal

Make sure your employees care. Let people identify with your vision. Why is it important for them? Why should they care? All change starts with intrinsic motivation. Your organisation’s objective is not enough. You will have to address people’s inner values. What do your employees find important? What do they care about? It’s those personal core values and beliefs that will motivate them to go the extra mile.

3. Create room for experimentation

If you want people to do new stuff, give them the space to do so. Provide employees with the freedom to start their own projects. Make sure that they have the capacity to work on new ideas. Use Google’s famous ‘20% time’ policy or develop your own strategy. Employees should be able to develop their own initiatives besides their daily affairs.

4. Communicate your expectations

Tell people that having ideas and acting upon them is not an extra activity. Continuous improvement and innovation is not a department, it’s everybody’s job. It should be clear to all employees that it’s expected of them to have an opinion and creative ideas. …and that they should act upon them.

5. Facilitate change

Provide your employees with the tools and techniques to make a difference in their work. Stimulate collaboration. People will often be more motivated if they are working together on something new. Furthermore, employees should have the freedom to make their own choices. This will boost their self-esteem and will make them more proactive. After all, they can not complain and blame someone else. The American software company Adobe took this even a step further by giving its employees an innovation tool-kit called the Adobe Kickbox. Besides instructions and tools, the box also contains a $1,000 prepaid Citi card that employees can use for their ideas without having to ask for permission.

6. Create a safe environment

If you want employees to take action, you will have to deal with failure. Lots of it. The road to success is paved with the corpses of unsuccessful initiatives. Be brave. Over the hills of failed attempts, victory awaits. It’s your job to lead and to convince people to keep going until they succeed. There are only results, and if those are not what you’ve been looking for you can always quote Thomas A. Edison; “I didn’t fail. I just found 1,000 ways that didn’t work.”

7. Reward changemakers

Showing your appreciation is very important to keep people going. Reward those who are showing the behaviour that you want. You can reward these employees with an extra bonus or by putting them and their initiatives in the spotlight. This way they will stay motivated to keep going and the other employees will be led the way by example.

8. Make it fun

Don’t be too serious about it. Doing new things should be fun. Make it a game, develop a contest or start a hackathon. By making things more playful people will lose their tension and will be more open towards new approaches.

9. Keep it easy

It should be easy for anyone to contribute and it shouldn’t take a lot of time. The more effort it takes, the fewer responses you will get. Keep it light and simple. You could, for example, introduce small objectives. How can you save €5,- this week? How can you earn  €1,- extra today? These tiny challenges often lead to surprising insights.

10. Be the example

As a manager, you play an exemplary role. Show your employees how it should be done. Share how you are trying out new approaches yourself. Make sure that the entire hierarchy is joining. From the CEO to middle management the desired behaviour must be shown.

Still curious?
Looking for more ways to motivate people to take initiative? Contact us. We’d love to help you to get people out of their comfort zone and into a creative, constructive and proactive attitude. Shoot us an email at hello@hatrabbits.com or call us on + 31 10 30 70 534

You can also join one of our workshops and see for yourself how creative thinking can make a difference.

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