“There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened.”
– Mary Kay Ash, Founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics

Your employees may be qualified for their jobs, and full of potential, but they can still use encouragement from you, their boss, to take initiative.

Recently, I walked into the exam room and noticed a new paper towel dispenser. Our previous model had a tendency to get jammed, either producing a wad of too many towels or shreds of not enough. But this new contraption was motion sensitive, delivering a perfect single sheet on command. A little thing, sure, but nice. Sure enough, the other exam rooms had new dispensers, and so did the bathrooms. Assuming my husband and partner had ordered them, I thanked him for the upgrade. But he shook his head and said it was our new office manager who had ordered them and installed them. And she did that all…unprompted.

When I thanked her, she shrugged and said that she noticed it was a problem and fixed it. Not to be dramatic, but this display of action made my heart swell. Because doesn’t it seem so hard to find employees who take the initiative on their own? Motivated employees who look for ways to help outside their normal job duties is an attribute that can turn a decent employee into an amazing asset. Do certain people simply possess this personality trait? Or is there a way we can train our employees to take the initiative?

Defining Initiative
“Work behavior characterized by its self-starting nature, its proactive approach and by being persistent in overcoming difficulties that arise in pursuit of a goal,” is how researchers Michael Frese and Doris Fay define initiative. In other words, to show initiative, you do things without being told. You act instead of react. If you want employees who can think on their feet and take unprompted action, here are a few guidelines to help develop initiative.

Foster a Supportive Environment with Open Communication
Employees need to feel comfortable in their work space. They need to feel like they are part of a team. As a leader, the boss may have more experience and knowledge, but employees need to understand that their input is valued. Make an effort to let employees know you’re excited to hear their thoughts. Create a process for employees to submit ideas even if time for a face-to-face meeting is limited. If an employee knows their boss is supportive, they will be more willing to take steps without constant verbal approval.

Encourage Safe Failure
It takes courage to show initiative, especially if the employee fears their superior will disagree with their actions or suggestions. If employees work in a practice where the doctors are always micro-managing them, they will be averse to taking new action without supervision. Motivate employees to take action with continual support and encouragement. Let employees know that after they are fully trained, they have the go-ahead to make decisions within their job description to address problems. Then, once they successfully handle a sticky issue, or take the initiative to fix something on their own, compliment them. Successful endeavors provide a learning experience and will build confidence.

Let your employees know that taking the initiative doesn’t always involve solving problems. Initiative also involves looking for ways to help. For example, if there is a stack of referral letters that need to be scanned, an employee who accomplishes that task without being asked to do so should be praised. Sometimes a simple thank you is enough to teach that initiative is expected and appreciated.

Educate Your Employees How to Spot Opportunities and Potential Improvement
Employees who show initiative do so by identifying opportunities that their colleagues have missed, and then act upon those opportunities. Instruct your team to be on the lookout for areas within your practice that could use improvement. Tell employees to think about the following:

What would our patients want us to improve?
What small problems could grow into bigger ones if left unchecked?
What slows our work flow or makes it more difficult?
What is frustrating or irritating within our office to either the patients or the staff?

Tell your team to look for these things, and once identified, recognize them not as problems, but opportunities to improve and grow.

Employees should be encouraged to take initiative to resolve problems or improve quality of service within your practice.

Some people innately take initiative, but others need to be gently prodded, taught and rewarded for taking risks they may fear. When employees are independently resourceful, even in small ways, take time to recognize and commend the effort, and hopefully that will set forth a path for all employees to take extra steps for the benefit of the entire practice.

 

How do you empower employees to take the initiative? How do you help employees feel safe enough to follow their instinct in making your practice better?

Jennifer Jabaley, OD

Jennifer Jabaley, OD

is a partner with Jabaley Eye Care in Blue Ridge, Ga. Contact: jabaleyjennifer@yahoo.com