Are your employees taking initiatives ?

my wayEmployees may sometimes follow their own ideas or instinct. It is good to have engaged, motivated and creative people to favour innovation and progress in the company but this may also induce a problem of cohesion and coherence by preventing a concerted and guided effort towards a common goal. When a concerted effort is necessary, uncoordinated initiatives is not appropriate. 


So initiatives can be more or less profitable depending on the context, especially when they are not accompanied or supervised. What are the circumstances when individual initiatives are less desirable ? What enables them ? here are some factors :

Lack of verification

A company verification and validation processes of what is done / built / delivered may be insufficient or even absent in some cases. This is acceptable if there is absolute trust in the employee’s ability to achieve what is requested, but experience shows that verification is always needed because human errors are unavoidable or because compliance to some some regulation or methodology is required.

Verification is not about controlling people – trust is always more beneficial (and cheaper) than control when it comes to people – it is about making sure that what is delivered is meeting the needs and required quality. No company can spare this feedback loop. The lack of verification is a powerful enabler and catalyst of some of the aspects addressed later in this article.

Isolation and lack of support

There are cases where the resolution of issues requiring management involvement cannot be escalated properly or at all. When escalation repeatedly fails, it induces a feeling of isolation that could lead to a give-up or “I’ll do it my way” attitude. Repetitive negative experiences (or perceived as such) lead to building limiting beliefs [1] e.g.  “it is useless to request help from my manager(s)”, “If I want it to succeed, I need to do it alone” or “If I want it to get through, I’ll bypass hierarchy and do it with my fellow colleagues”.

The “parallel market”

It may be difficult to conceive but experience shows that the official hierarchy or organisational structure of an enterprise may be bypassed as highlighted in the previous topic about isolation and lack of management support. Human nature is to be in group and in difficult times (transformation, re-organisation, change, …), the group or being part of group is highly re-assuring. So under these circumstances, employees who know each other for a long time or are used to work together tend to regroup in a kind of unofficial network, a “parallel market” which has its own behaviour and course of action not necessarily in-line with the corporate goals and strategy (see “The shadow of the enterprise”).

Attitude towards change

In these potentially chaotic transition times where the organisation structure, methodology, processes and roles are changing, employees may sometimes adopt a withdrawal attitude. As an attempt to achieve some kind of order or simply to be able to continue to function efficiently (sometimes subjectively), they tend to re-shape their role as they see fit from their own standpoint with potential inappropriate effects (see “Gaps in processes” and “Employees roles and company culture”).

Unclear roles definition

Sometimes, even when not in transition times, the roles are not sufficiently defined and again employees reshape them as they see fit with the same potential side effects.


We assumed so far that employees are committed with the appropriate corporate mindset but facts are that on average a substantial percentage of employees are actually “actively disengaged” [2][3] i.e. they potentially willingly take actions or behave in a way that do not serve the company interest. Considering that only 13% of employees are engaged worldwide [2], this aspect must not be taken lightly.

As a conclusion, it is important to promote creativity to favour innovation in the company and consequently to keep employees motivated by taking their ideas and opinions into consideration, but it is equally important to efficiently supervise these initiatives. We can see from the above examples that many aspects may lead employees to derive from corporate goals and this inevitably raises one of the most important management question: how are trust, beliefs, fear and disengagement handled in your company ?



[1] Belief, wikipedia
[2] Worldwide, 13% of Employees Are Engaged at Work,
[3] Roots and consequences of the employee disengagement phenomenon,  Elena Heikkeri


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