How many ideas should move from selected to implemented?
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To what extent does an employee work – and innovate – to benefit the organization and to what extent does she work and innovate to benefit herself? Senior managers would like to believe that employees are a team of selfless workers who – in exchange for a monthly wage and odd benefits – work exclusively to the benefit of the organization. As the organization grows, the employee receives promotions, salary increases and additional benefits that encourage her to continue serving the company 100%.

The socialist cynic might argue that employees work solely to benefit themselves. Their interest is not in the organization’s prosperity, but in their salary and benefits. Workers do as much as necessary to ensure their salaries and regular promotions, but no more.

The truth, of course, falls somewhere in the middle. In most organizations, employees take pride in their employer, share in its vision and genuinely wish it to prosper. At the same time, employees want to maximize their benefits via not only salary, but taking on interesting responsibilities and acting in ways that benefit their progression up the organizational ladder.

Clearly, from the organizational perspective, the greater the extent to which employees work for the organization’s benefit, the greater the benefits to the organization. This is important in terms of innovation. If employees strive to help the organization grow, they will strive to devise and implement ideas that will help the organization achieve that goal.

If employees feel disconnected from their firm and feel they gain no personal benefits from firm’s growth, they will keep their heads down, keep new ideas to themselves and avoid rocking the boat.

On the other hand, if employees feel disconnected from their firm and feel they gain no personal benefits from firm’s growth, they will keep their heads down, keep new ideas to themselves and avoid rocking the boat.

In other words, if your firm is to be an innovative firm, then you need to maximize the extent to which your employees are working to the organization’s benefit rather than to their own benefit. While this may sound rather like programming people to become mindless company cogs whose only interest is the organization’s growth, the opposite is actually true. If employees believe in their organization and strive to help the organization achieve its corporate goals, they are likely to become more satisfied employees who feel they are an integral part of the organization and that they are appreciated by the organization.

Achieving this is easy in concept:

  1. Sharing goals. If employees understand your corporate goals and how they can do their bit to help the organization achieve those goals, they will do their bit. Thus, you need to communicate goals across the organization. Managers must work with their teams to ensure each member knows what her bit is. Sharing goals is the single most important thing you can do to get employees working for the organization’s benefit
  2. Ensure that if people help the firm grow, they also grow with the firm. This should be company policy and be well communicated. If an employee knows that her efforts on the organization’s behalf will result in greater responsibility, promotion and increased salary, then she will work to the organization’s benefit – because that benefit will come to her as well. During the dot-com boom in the late 1990s, start-up companies were able to pay talented employees very low wages together with promises of stocks and massive wages when the organization prospered. Unfortunately, most companies did not prosper for long and employees today are more cynical of packages with little salary to start with, in exchange for riches should the organization do well.
  3. A charismatic leader can do wonders to bring employees over to the organization’s side and entice them to strive on the organization’s behalf. Provided the charismatic leader does not make false or excessive promises, she can be very effective. However, if employees eventually feel cheated by a charismatic leader who promises – explicitly or implicitly – benefits that never come, employees will soon turn against that leader and her organization.

This is a problem for government offices whose success does not usually result in growth and profits.

This is a problem for government offices whose success does not usually result in growth and profits, and whose success is not measured financially. A civil servant does not strive to turn her government office into a more profitable enterprise.

Unfortunately, as a result, many civil servants work primarily for their personal benefit – doing what is demanded of them and little more, keeping their heads down and not rocking the boat. Nevertheless, a manager of a government office can still push employees to work on the government’s behalf in the same ways that a manager of a private company can. However, a means has to be found for demonstrating and measuring the organization’s success.

So, why are your employees working for you?

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

Jeffrey Baumgartner is the author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master; the author/editor of Report 103, a popular newsletter on creativity and innovation in business. He is currently developing and running workshops around the world on Anticonventional Thinking, a new approach to achieving goals through creativity.

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