It’s no surprise — organizations that don’t take the time to innovate and assess their impact on their communities often get left in the dust. Stagnant work units can find themselves falling behind if they don’t solicit new ideas and feedback from their employees. But sometimes, that reality isn’t enough to convince managers to provide their staff the time to really think about what could be improved and how they can make an impact in their work units and communities.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? “We don’t have the time.” “We have other projects to work on.” “We don’t have the resources.” So … how do you convince managers to allow employees enough time to innovate and be impactful?
Assess Your Own Schedule First
If your manager has concerns about dedicating time for brainstorming and new projects, chances are there are concerns about the overall workload being handled by your team. Take a look at your own schedule first. Determine whether or not you have time to take on a new project or set aside dedicated brainstorming time. Sometimes it’s just a matter of penciling it in and taking that initiative yourself. See if you can set aside just 1-2 hours per week to jot down ideas for you and your team. Already have a project in mind? Use that time to break out a plan and determine next steps for what can be done.
Now, what if you don’t have time? That’s not to say you can’t be innovative — maybe this is a great opportunity to be innovative. See if you can figure out why you have so much work on your plate. Is it your own time management? Is there anything you can say ‘no’ to, like a standing meeting that you’re pretty much just observing? Think about ways you can proactively clear your schedule to allow time for these new ideas to thrive.
Come to the Table with Suggestions
Just telling your manager “I’d like more time to be innovative” is such a broad statement. So when you decide to have that discussion with your manager, bring some concrete ideas. Do you have thoughts on how to streamline a certain process? Have you noticed feedback from your community about an opportunity your team can take on? Giving your manager tangible goals not only helps you devise a plan, it gives your manager a much better sense of what you want to accomplish.
And, of course, don’t forget the why. Explaining the impact of what you want to focus on and how it can help your organization is a much more convincing argument. The general premise “we need to be innovative to be relevant” won’t get it done. You may wish to research case studies of organizations that didn’t innovate and were negatively impacted.
Don’t just try to scare your manager into getting with the times, though — make them excited for it. Explain the opportunities for growth and how you plan to achieve it. You don’t need every little piece written out. Even just ideas for first steps, collaboration opportunities, etc., can help get projects off the ground.
Solicit Their Feedback
People tend to get much more excited about projects that they themselves have a say in. This also includes your manager. So many of the projects that I’ve worked on sparked from something my manager said offhand during a staff meeting. Whether or not you have some new ideas for your team, ask your manager what’s important to them. Do they themselves see opportunities to innovate and grow? This not only gives you some additional ideas, but having their buy-in increases the likelihood that they’ll be willing to work with you on some of your ideas.
And think about it. Maybe they are just as excited to innovate as you are, but they are experiencing some barriers or boundaries themselves. If you notice that they are hesitant to try new things, ask them why. Is it genuinely a time issue? Or do they have other concerns? Sometimes having that frank discussion can build the trust needed to break down those barriers and open the door to some process improvements and future projects.
Show Your Progress and Follow Up
Don’t try to take on every little project you have in mind. See if you can stick to no more than 2-3 (maybe even just one to start). This will allow you to focus and set achievable goals and milestones that you can more easily present to your manager. Set up a standing meeting with your manager to discuss your progress and the impact it’s had. Continue to ask for feedback and do a debrief at the end of the project. Discuss what went well and what could be done better next time. This shows that you’ve carefully thought about what you are doing and are not just trying to be innovative for innovation’s sake.
If your projects end up being successful, chances are your manager will start being more open minded and allow your team more room to innovate. Even if an initiative isn’t as successful as you’d like it to be, see if you can identify bright spots and how they made a positive impact. Eventually, with more opportunities presenting themselves, maybe your supervisor will give you the green light without all of that convincing after all!
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Myranda Whitesides is a Performance Support Specialist for the Interior Business Center, the Department of Interior’s Shared Services Center. She conducts personnel and payroll systems training for over 50 federal agencies, as well as providing training in Diversity and Inclusion for her peers. Myranda also serves as the Education Co-Director for the Mile High Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), coordinating Educational content for Human Resources professionals in the Denver Metro area. Myranda also enjoys singing, camping, and exploring local breweries and restaurants with her husband, Daniel.
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