Beyond Declarations of Independence: Recruiting and Supporting Employees That Take Initiative

by | Aug 5, 2016 | Business

Just about every employer wants workers who take initiative, responsibility, and can do their job without constant supervision. Very few employers, however, actually employ workforces where these types of workers predominate. What is the cause of the disparity between what employers say and who they hire?

One reason for the disparity is that the traits possessed by take-charge, independent employees don’t exist in a vacuum. An “independent” and “take-charge” employee sounds great in the abstract, but if a position depends on a hierarchical management structure or if procedures for doing a job are highly specific, an outside-the-box thinker who seeks to reinvent his role may not be the best fit.

Here are four tips to transition from an organization that has the idea of hiring employees that take more initiative to determining that you need to cultivate independence in your work force.

  • Honestly assess your business needs. Make sure that you properly value candidates with initiative. Think carefully about the position for which you are hiring. What are the traits required to do the job and do it well? Is it a position that requires creativity? What level of supervision or guidance does it require? How complex is the position? And to what degree is the importance of the decisions to be made by this position? In addition, think about the career path for the position you are hiring for. Even if the current responsibilities are highly routine or simple, if you seek to promote from within, you may want to hire with an eye to the future. For some positions, the ability to take initiative may trump experience. For other well-defined roles, finding a self-started may be less of a priority.
  • Encourage open communication. If you are permitting your employees a high degree of discretion in how they do their jobs, both top-down and bottom-up, communication is important. Transparency is key in helping team members and employees meet your expectations. Employees need to know the areas in which they have freedom to act and the areas in which they do not.With regard to traditional communication from the workforce to management, you’re going to want to have some visibility into the decisions that your employees are making. This doesn’t mean micromanagement or big-brother style surveillance, which would undermine employees taking their own initiative. But you are going to understand the changes that these employees are making and monitor results. Self-starters still need to be held accountable.When your employees have the discretion to make decisions, they will need guidance and input from their co-workers. Further, when these employees make successful innovations, you’re going to want those innovations to proliferate across the workforce. To facilitate the flow of information, consider promoting the use of chat apps to encourage horizontal communication.Finally, you’re going to provide your employees the support they need from management, whether that support is in the form of additional resources or buy-in and support from supervisors. There need to be clear channels of communications so that employees can make these requests and get a response quickly.
  • Celebrate employees who show initiative. Affirm and reward the positive traits you want to see in people. When someone shows initiative, praise them privately and publicly, so others can see what you are looking for in your employees. Encourage initiative in the short term, but be sure to also reward it long term. These motivators can include yearly bonuses or more opportunities for employee or team growth and advancement.
  • Allow room for error. If you empower your employees to make choices, it is unavoidable that some of those choices will turn out poorly. Give your workers the room to make mistakes, and allow them to learn from their mistakes to take better risks and make more calculated decisions in the future.

Almost every organization has a need for autonomous workers and self-starters, but these traits will have a varying level of importance depending on the position. Be strategic as to the positions that require candidates who can operate with a high degree of autonomy and ensure that you have a support structure that will allow them to succeed and, occasionally, fail.


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