Many years ago, an executive director I worked for told me, “I don’t pay you to think.”
After a moment of shock, I replied, “I guess that explains why you pay me so little.” During my time with that organization, I spearheaded many projects, some of which are still in existence over 20 years later. Thankfully my willingness to create and improve systems to serve our clients better wasn’t squashed. It easily could have been, as this was my first “real” job after college and I was working with team members with higher education levels. This environment was not conducive to talent innovation, motivation or retention.
Space for Innovation
Our employees can be our most significant source of innovation. As leaders, it is our responsibility to create space where it is safe to offer new ideas. For many of us, just the thought of being embarrassed or shamed will keep us from sharing when we identify opportunities for improvement.
I love this quote by Peter Sheahan,
“The secret killer of innovation is shame. Every time someone holds back on a new idea, fails to give their manager much needed feedback, and is afraid to speak up in front of a client you can be sure shame played a part. That deep fear of being wrong, of being belittled is what stops us taking the very risks required to move our companies forward.”
“If you want a culture of creativity and innovation, start by developing the ability of managers to cultivate an openness to vulnerability in their teams. This requires that first they are vulnerable themselves. This notion that the leader needs to be ‘in charge’ and to ‘know all the answers’ is both dated and destructive. Its impact on others is the sense that they know less, and that they are less than. A recipe for risk aversion if ever I have heard it. Shame becomes fear. Fear leads to risk aversion. Risk aversion kills innovation.”
Shame and Innovation
Shame is an enemy of innovation in all walks of life, including work. As humans, we are hard-wired for connection. Shame is closely correlated with fear of disconnection and is highly avoided by most. The fear of presenting an idea that may be dismissed or even mocked is a powerful motivator to keep our mouths shut and our heads down. It doesn’t have to be this way.
One of my favorite stories about employee innovation occurred in my front yard. Our home was previously the foreman’s home of Arkwright Mill. I was told that during the Great Depression, one of the employees at the mill told a supervisor that he knew how to smoke meat. A smokehouse was built in our front yard (across the street from the mill). According to history, selling smoked ham up the east coast saved the mill and the city of Spartanburg. Can you imagine how different things might have been if there hadn’t been the trust and respect required for innovation?
Creating Space for Innovation
What can you do as a leader to inspire and motivate your employees to share innovative ideas? Start by creating a culture that includes a safe space with mutual respect and trust. Be willing to be vulnerable – nobody is perfect! Commit to improving conversational and emotional intelligence. Offer contests for innovative ideas that are implemented. Practice active listening without judgment. The changes won’t happen overnight, but with good modeling, leadership and inspiration, there is no limit on opportunities for innovation.
If you would like to learn more, I recommend 2 Second Lean by Paul Akers. He states, “Our job is not to build products, but to improve the process of how we build our products.”
Stacey Bevill, BCC, ACC, NCC, MPM®
President of Golden Career Strategies, Coach & Consultant
Stacey has over 20 years of business and marketing experience and has master’s level certifications in coaching, marketing strategies, entrepreneurship, and project management. Bevill is passionate about improving communication, employee engagement and motivation, mental fitness, and improving processes and quality. She also strongly supports individuals in transition and those interested in personal leadership and vision, resiliency, and wellness. She purchased Golden Career Strategies in 2020 and has added a new division for Operational Excellence.
Stacey is a Board Certified Coach from the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE), certified by the internationally acclaimed Newfield Network Coaching Institute and credentialed by the International Coach Federation (ICF). Additional training includes Positive Intelligence (by founder Shirzad Chamine, 2nd cohort), Conversational Intelligence Enhanced Practitioner (by founder Judith Glaser), Inspired Leadership from Case Western Reserve University, and Coaching for Managers from the University of California, Davis. Stacey is also a HeartMath® Certified Coach, Trainer, and Stress & Well-Being Assessment Provider. She is a Flow Energy Balance Indicator (FEBI®) Assessment Certified Coach (Leadership Patterns) and a Strong Interest Inventory® and MBTI® Certified Practitioner.
She has received “value-added” training for her manufacturing clients: ISO 9001:2015 Standard & Internal/Supplier Auditor, IATF 16949: 2016 – Understanding Standard and Auditing, Certified Local Change Agent (credentialed by APMG), Certified Master Project Manager® and has finished the classwork and passed the exam for her Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification. She is currently working on her Lean Six Sigma Black Belt project. Stacey is a graduate of Leadership South Carolina, Leadership Spartanburg, The Women’s Campaign School at Yale, The Spartanburg County Foundation’s Grass Roots Leadership Development Institute, and Furman Connections: Women Leaders of the Upstate. Bevill is an active volunteer with One to One: Women Coaching Women as a coach lead and volunteer coach and serves as one of four volunteer coaches in South Carolina for Stand Beside Them. She was awarded the Rotary International District Service Above Self award.
 2 Second Lean by Paul Ackers