In SGR Part Deux: What Inspires You in the Workplace?, John McCarter, City of Pearland, TX, summarized the results from our survey about finding inspiration at work. In this members-only post, we present the results in their entirety.
Describe a time when you were inspired at work.
- The Mayor recently merged a couple of ideas we had been discussing separately. Apart we did not know if they would work, but by combining them it opened a whole new area of possibilities and made the task within reach. By seeing the potential and having a greater probability of success (rather than an uphill battle with low probability of accomplishment) it inspired me.
- Anytime I see the direct impact to citizens. For example, many citizens “tweet” at us but don’t expect a reply. I am inspired by answering citizen comments via social media. You immediately notice a change of tone from citizen’s when they realize someone is on the other end and they care. We relocated a “no parking” sign due to a citizen complaint via social media and she’s still raving about how responsive we are. The bar is set low for local government, don’t be afraid to jump over it.
- Completed a difficult task.
- My next-door neighbors in Security Services walked in to share the story of how one of their guards talked to a woman who was in distress in another building’s lobby, then kept her alive using CPR until the ambulance came. The emergency room doctors were clear that his friendly calm and ability to act saved her life. This thrilled the staff who direct the security function because it was the epitome of excellence at a time when security guards were getting bashed in the news for sloppy oversights. We celebrated together.
- We had a small meeting on police recruitment recently. There was good focus on the mission, some cross-departmental involvement to promote, reinforce, and follow-up. Those kinds of collaborations are daily small victories that move us forward and make me happy.
Describe a time when you (or a member of your staff) failed to inspire your employees.
- Recently I was working on outsourcing the printing and mailing of our utility bills. It had taken the Utility Clerk three days to prepare the bills-printing folding and sorting, and a large group of volunteer hours to stuff the 1,800 bills. Throughout the process I had thought I brought in the Utility Clerk to be part of the process and thought she was onboard. In the end I realized that she was not on board and did not find out until the council meeting where she and the group of volunteers voiced their opinions against the idea. I learned that you have to have greater communication with everyone that is involved, including volunteers and the people in charge of the change need to be the one communicating, it cannot be delegated. You need to listen to their feedback and take it into consideration for them to get on board with the new idea and become inspired by all of the potential. Throughout the next year I thought of ways to address the concerns brought about by the volunteers. I also discussed the new ideas with the group of volunteers and listened to their ideas about it as well. Not all were on-board, however the city has outsourced the bills and the feedback we have been receiving from the citizens is outstanding.
- During a visioning process, our supervisor failed to be a strong voice. You could tell by body language and speech and that immediately lost the workforce. I am believer of leading by example.
- The employees lost direction or failed to complete the task.
- I failed to find a way to resolve a situation in which someone who was tasked with managing a key contract, over whom I had no direct authority, did not report IT investment data properly and put several departments’ public information efforts at risk. This chronic situation was hard on the employee, her boss, and me and was the opposite of inspiring. I could not find a way past the thought that the employee had checked out due to being in the wrong job.
- I had a horrible supervisor who had no clue what I did (even though there were only 5 employees total). She was disrespectful and dismissive during staff meetings, and these traits made me not respect her as a supervisor.
- I think that my own interactions with staff one-on-one are likely not often “inspiring.” I’m better at writing something lofty than uplifting coaching, generally. Some of it is time and some of it is preference. There are others in our manager’s office that are better at that.
What are some unconventional ways to motivate employees to innovate and think outside the box?
- Give them the ability to do so. If they have an idea that doesn’t work, don’t shoot it down right away. Think about what does work and brainstorm on how to go from there. Sometimes a less formal environment isn’t as intimidating and allows the ideas to flow better.
- Handwritten thank you notes, take them out to lunch, anything that gets outside the regular environment.
- Communication, letting them know exactly how and what you want. Letting them do whatever they want to accomplish the task. No restrictions other than funding.
- Piggyback on a “fluff” commitment the agency has, such as supporting an annual charitable campaign. State the goal, tell employees where the guard rails are, then invite them to come up with outrageously fun ways to get all employees excited about meeting the goal. Pay attention to what they do, how they do it, who responds, and who puts out good energy. Invite those who added value to coffee afterward and talk to them about what was accomplished. Listen to their thoughts about why it worked. Ask them how they would go about making free-flowing ideation plus reliable execution part of the culture. Leverage those employees to invite innovation into the culture, emphasizing attitude and energy rather than position. Aim for a bubbly mix of good-humored people who include all comers and want to make good new things happen. -Don’t start any of the foregoing unless it will be supported at levels senior enough to commit support.
- Provide an environment where employees feel able to share new ideas and try them out. Have time or meetings or some other resource dedicated to encouraging innovation.
- I like to share examples of positive and innovative things accomplished, both done internally and from other cities. Something like planting the seeds and letting people pick out what grabs them and adapting that to our local needs and environment.
Can innovation become part of every employee’s job? How?
- Yes, by always being open to discussing new ideas. If you continually make people feel as though they are listened to, then they’ll have more of a vested interest in the end result.
- Yes! Of course! Empower them with technology tools to see if there’s a way to make repetitive jobs (e.g. administrative tasks, financial tasks) automated. Or, task employees with article review to see if they can find other best practices that your organization could replicate.
- Yes. Encourage innovation.
- Employees can’t be ordered to think creative thoughts that result in innovative action. Organizational leaders can remove obvious spirit-crushers if they have enough awareness (including self-awareness) to recognize them.
- Yes. If the workplace culture supports it.
- Yes, but I think that “innovation” is too overwhelming and daunting a composition. I prefer continuous improvement. That can be innovative and more accepting of small victories with steps here and there. That also gives room for the big idea if it comes.
What stifles creativity and innovation in the workplace?
- Being told what to do. If an employee is always told what to do and doesn’t understand the reason behind it, then how are they to know if they can improve upon it? The mindset that “this is the way it has always been.”
- Fear. Always fear. Fear of failure, fear of termination, fear of change. When we allow ourselves to fail or to deal with change, we can be really effective.
- Encouraging silos and trying to keep people in them. “Why do you need to know that?” “You have no business talking to them.” Etc. Thinking of employees as interchangeable parts or commodities, rather than making sincere attempts to recognize, value, and deploy their secret sauce. Not making invitation, high expectation, feedback, coaching, and mentoring part of everyday life.
- Top down initiatives without buy-in
- Lack of time/attention on innovation, lack of buy-in at any level
- Not dedicating the time and focus that’s necessary. Getting caught turning the crank instead of Q2 thinking and work.
Name and describe (at least) one thing managers should do to inspire their employees.
- Listen and communicate. Give credit for others ideas and work.
- Trust them. Give them technology tools. Talk to them. Let them talk freely to you about their challenges and successes.
- Meet with their staff and ask their opinion and go with a suggestion that was provided by staff.
- Go first in extending trust to direct reports, sharing as much as possible (to the extent of taking some personal risk) about what’s important, what’s coming up, and how each person fits into that. If the manager doesn’t really give a damn about the employees, this shouldn’t be done. If he or she does give a damn, this does inspire employees and they’ll cut even inexperienced managers a ton of slack until they’re up to speed.
- Connect on personal level often
- Make me feel valued.
- Support them positively, provide aspirations for where the community and organization can be and wants to be. Encouraging employees to help get from here to there.