There are few things in my life that have put more fear into me than entering the real world after graduating from Texas A&M University in December 1992. For those of you who may not recall, the unemployment rate was hovering near 8% and since I was a communications major, I didn’t have any marketable skills that seemed appealing to potential employers. When you sprinkle in the fact that I also had no clue what I wanted to do with my life and you end up with a foolproof recipe for career mediocrity.
For the next eight years that mediocrity manifested itself as I traveled from one sales job to another doing exactly what I was supposed to do: show up on time, meet my quota, get along with my coworkers, and do everything I could to avoid being noticed. You read that right, I was content blending into the background and even became somewhat of a yes man being so agreeable that my boss could have suggested donating all my commissions to the Human Fund and I would have agreed.
Candidly, it was easier for me to suppress my ideas and opinions for one simple reason: I knew if I silently nodded along with the thoughts of others I wouldn’t be judged and I certainly wouldn’t be put in a position to fail. After all, it was someone else’s idea!
Thankfully when I entered the promotional products industry in November of 2000, I had a boss who not only wanted more out of me, but demanded it. This boss – and a mentor – wanted me to challenge him and encouraged me to speak my mind. It took someone who cared enough about me to help me feel confident in my own business sense and skills.
I also knew that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way and I needed to pay it forward. Here are three great ways to encourage all your associates – regardless of position in the company – to overcome their fear sharing thoughts and ideas.
Culture – At the outset of a new associate’s employment, let them know that you don’t know everything. By laying the groundwork for respectful discourse and dissent, you make it clear that challenging thoughts and ideas are not only acceptable, but critical to the growth of the organization. No one will ever share.
No limits – When it comes to the sharing of ideas, the worst thing a manager can do is restrict it to department meetings. One of the reasons I initially kept my ideas to myself was the fact that I usually had to do it in the public setting of a meeting. Because I was encouraged to share my thoughts in private settings, over time it gave me the courage and certainty to contribute in public environments.
Don’t Punish Bad Ideas – One of my favorite sayings in an ideation meeting is, “there’s no bad ideas in brainstorming.” While that may not always be true (I’ve certainly voiced my share of horrid ideas in meetings), don’t mock anyone for making a poor suggestion as that will only keep them from sharing anything in the future.
I’ll always be thankful to my first boss in the industry for demanding more of me and allowing a safe environment to express my thoughts. It’s something I’ve done my best to replicate since that time. When we encourage people to share ideas and candid feedback, it will help uncover problems before they become crippling to the organization. Not a bad trade off unless you need a yes man to make your own ideas seem better than they are.