Innovation and growth are fundamental to any successful institution. Organizations stagnate without new ideas and revised practices. If you are in leadership, people will approach you with their big ideas. How do you seperate the gems from the squeaky wheels—and respond to both? We have four principles to guide you.
Value communication. You should be accessible to people with ideas and value each of the people working with you. One of the ways you do that is by listening. It is important that you hear—and address—not only the idea, but the emotion behind it. Are they sharing this suggestion with you because they are frustrated about a problem or excited about an opportunity?
Reinforce responsibility. Sometimes people have no intention of improving an institution. They are actually complaining or blaming under the guise of offering a suggestion. If people serially externalizes blame to the system or their coworkers, remind them to take the direct steps within their control. Are they suggesting an employee-accountability system when they need to have a conversation with one negligent coworker?
Provide Context. Sometimes the change individuals are seeking isn’t possible for a variety of reasons. By explaining the broader context of why something can’t currently be implemented, you demonstrate that you understand where they are coming from. Remind them of the overall vision of your organization and their place within that mission. If their idea is something that is relevant, but not timely, ask them to bring the idea up again at a specific time.
Reward innovation. If colleagues have an idea that turns out to be a productive change for your organization, thank them personally and acknowledge them publicly. Depending on the scale of the project, this might be as simple as praise at staff meeting, or it might merit a ceremony or award. Make a habit of recognizing small and large contributions. By recognizing innovation, you encourage it.