We’ve all been there!

You share an idea that has merit. It’s an idea that can significantly impact the organization either by making a process more efficient, making a small change that results in big savings or eliminating wasted time or resources in some way.

Your co-workers love it until…

Image from DollarPhotoClub.com

Image from DollarPhotoClub.com

they’re all assigned to a committee/team/task force to define a plan of action for implementing this great idea.

(Cue the sound of the team’s morale deflating).

Suddenly the idea everyone hailed yesterday has become a source of frustration and disappointment. What was exciting now feels like more work (that will probably never get done).

What happened?

In an effort to make everyone feel involved or in the loop, leaders relied on project management tools and techniques that create more (and often unnecessary) work. It is a problem that seems to be occurring across credit unions of all sizes, and quite frankly, it is serious enough that it can threaten their very existence.

Here’s why…

People will stop sharing ideas when the burden of the work required to take action gets in the way.

Once people realize that any idea big or small is going to create more work for them (and others), they become reticent to share them. Ultimately, this leads to people withdrawing. They give up because they don’t believe change is actually possible anymore (or they feel it will take too long and end up with less impact than immediate action would produce).

Thus, instead of encouraging innovation, the well-intentioned systems and project management tools end up driving innovation and change out of the organization.

So what can you do?

1. Get serious about breaking down barriers and obstacles to sharing ideas. Instead of forming a team or adding to everyone’s workload every time someone comes up with an innovative new idea, find ways to make it easier for people to take small actions that, over time, produce significant impacts.

2. Redefine the parameters of empowerment to support sharing ideas. Increase the level of permission given to employees to do things without permission and without involving anyone else. Leverage the talent in the organization. Encourage people to improve the things they can improve without adding to the workload of others.

3. Create an environment that fosters sharing ideas. Establish a place where ideas are captured and processed. Set up a few whiteboards or line a few walls with white board laminate. Provide lots of colored pens, post it notes, and tools that will stimulate discussion, debate, and deliberation. Encourage (and recognize) use of the space to share ideas about how to do things better. Invite other people to respond and further develop the ideas. Consider creating an online place (such as an internal wiki or idea blog) where everyone can see what ideas are being kicked around.

Your First Step: Remember that innovation is about both big and small changes. Be intentional about creating the environment that supports a culture where people constantly search for ways to improve everything. Define the limits of empowerment and let people go that far, then as they grow and develop, raise the bar so they can go further.