How to build a culture of initiative

Let me guess… you’re tired of telling your team members what to do? You don’t want to micromanage them, but you also feel like they could be more proactive and take the initiative.

I hear you loud and clear.

Having to constantly check your team member’s progress on tasks is painful and time-consuming. Especially, when it’s the third or fourth time you’re following up on something… it’s enough to make you want to scream!!!

But the problems don’t end there…

When a leader has to regularly nudge their team members, they are inadvertently building a mountainous roadblock in the middle of their business. A roadblock that will stop them scaling the business.

To help you mentally picture this roadblock: imagine you’re Richard Dreyfuss in the movie, Close Encounters of The Third Kind…

But instead of building a mountain made of mash potato… you are building a mountain that’s made of micromanagement, oversight, and supervision. A mountain that will become a huge obstruction as you scale the business and serve more people.

(If you found that mental picture confusing… don’t worry, things will get clearer.)

Put simply: if projects only move forward when you’re involved, then the future growth and smooth running of the business will depend on you. Whenever you step away, or dare to take a holiday, the business will not be growing or functioning like it should.

If you’re serious about scaling your business and ensuring that it runs smoothly without you, you need more involvement from your team. You need them to take the initiative and run projects on their own.

Now, before I share simple ways for helping your team members take the initiative, let’s look at why many team members don’t grab hold of tasks and projects.

Why team members don’t take the initiative

There are a few key reasons team members don’t take the initiative.

#1. They expect to be told what to do

They lack ownership of their work – they feel like the company/boss expects them to follow direction exactly and not think on their own

#2. Waiting for approval and information

They believe they need approval before taking action, so even if there is something they can do on their own, they wait for the boss to tell them what to do.

In addition, they might feel they lack enough information about a situation…

#3. Scared of making mistakes

They fear that acting without direction, and the right information will lead to negative consequences

#4. Lack of motivation

They don’t want to achieve what you want them to achieve.

For example, a leader might push a team member towards blogging, but the team member might be more interested in other things, like research & development or attending trade shows.

Alternatively, the team member could be totally unmotivated. (Aside: if a team member is unmotivated about their core role, it’s time for a serious conversation — read my helpful article about underperforming team members)

Now that we’ve addressed why team members don’t take the initiative – let’s talk about how you can help them do it. 

How to help team members take the initiative

Here are five ways you can help your team to take action.

#1. Get to know the interests and goals of your team members

You might have hired them for a specific role (e.g., cold-calling, customer-support) However, your team members probably have many more things they’re interested in.

When you invest time in talking and listening to colleagues, you’re better able to:

  • Understand why they are/not motivated
  • Give them ownership of projects that align with their interests
  • Derisk the projects for them – help them feel better about making mistakes and learning

#2. Give them responsibility

Make sure that each member of the team is given responsibility and authority for a specific area/project/task. This way, when something needs to be done, they will feel empowered to take the necessary steps without being told what to do.

#3. Share more information

Give them more information – so they don’t feel like you’re withholding something from them, or not giving enough direction. Team members want to be able to do what is needed without having to ask you a million questions along the way.

Here are four things to include in your information briefs:

  1. Background – Any critical background information, e.g., our clients are vegans, make sure you send them vegan-friendly Xmas gifts
  2. Goals – What does success look. Make them specific, timely, and achievable.
  3. Permissions – Can they contact the client? Use stock photography from X website? When can they contact you?
  4. Resources – What equipment do they have access to? Do they have a budget?

#4. Communicate company wide goals

Hold regular town-hall meetings and make clear the big picture that the team is working towards. This will help them understand the “why” behind their individual tasks. (It’s hard for people to stay motivated when they can’t see the finish line).

#5. Make them accountable

When people feel you care about their performance, they’ll care more, too.

Prove that you care by holding your team members accountable for their performance… Schedule regular check-in meetings and ensure that you have performance goals in place for each team member.

Final thoughts

There’s a big difference between encouraging people to take the initiative, and thrusting work upon them (especially when that work is outside their core role).

When you help people take initiative, you’re empowering them to do exceptional work.

And when people feel empowered, they are typically more motivated and invested in the final result.

If your employees still not taking initiative after following the above steps, then that team member is likely to have core motivational challenges that you the leader will need to address.

However, in most instances, if you follow the steps above, you will get a result. You will get team members who are ready, willing, and able to take the initiative. You will get a business that’s less dependent on you and ready to scale in the future.

Right, it’s time for you to take the initiative and put these steps into practice!

Have courage, own your future, and take action.


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