One strategic approach to career management is to find effective ways to stand out on the job. Being good at what you do is obvious, of course, but great job performance alone won’t be enough to break from the crowd. One way to make sure you stand out and get noticed is by speaking up.
You may know how to do a great job in your position, but there is always room for improvement. Take time to look at how you do what you do, how people and processes work around you, and think about ways everyone could do it better. Come at it with a fresh perspective and find ways to improve efficiency or increase effectiveness.
Often times, great ideas are hidden in changing and challenging “the way we’ve always done it.” (Click here to tweet this thought.) While small improvements may not be earth-shattering, over time, they can add up to big progress. And if you’re the employee who made the suggestion, you will stand out.
Employees: How to Speak Up Effectively
There’s a right way and a wrong way to speak up about making improvements. Don’t waste time griping to your supervisor. Everyone has stressful work days, and you can always vent excess tension among trusted coworkers.
Instead, talk to your boss only about observations and ideas for policies, processes, procedures or products you think can be improved. But do your homework first. If possible, find out the history and politics behind those areas you want to change. Keep your emotions in check when speaking to your supervisors, and try to propose at least one suggestion for doing things differently or solving the problem.
Make sure your suggestion is actionable. Complaining about the fluorescent lights isn’t valuable. Having a specific plan for increasing natural light in the office and improving productivity as a result is much better. You could even show your supervisor the numerous studies that link lighting and environment to productivity. (That’s doing your homework.)
Bear in mind these tips for speaking up and standing out in a positive way:
1. Sow Some Seeds
Have you gone to bat for your boss before? If you have, then you probably earned some capital to suggest changes. It’s also a good idea to gauge your boss’s mood before stepping into their office to best take advantage of any good will.
2. Consider the Person You’ll be Talking To
People have different communication styles and opinions about what constitutes a good idea. Some might want a formal written proposal. Others might prefer to chat about it over coffee. A good idea isn’t always self-evident. Sometimes it needs to be packaged in a way that will make it appealing to the person listening.
3. Focus on the Positive, Not on Assigning Blame
This suggestion cannot be stressed enough. No one wants to hear you gripe. You can avoid this pitfall by focusing on the benefits of your suggestion.
4. Timing is Everything
Suggesting a new idea during the heat of an active project or deadline can often work against you. Your good idea could be perceived by others as a distraction — or, worse, a way for you to avoid the task at hand.
Complete your current task or project, then propose your idea during calmer times. Receptiveness will improve immeasurably.
5. Frame the Problem as Your Perception, Not as a Fact
“This procedure is all wrong” is a lot less effective than, “This procedure appears to be making it more time-consuming for staff to produce monthly client reports.”
While the issue may seem obvious to you, understand that you’re still offering your point of view. Approaching your boss with this humble disposition will only help your cause.
6. Find the Idea Champions in Your Company
These people generally welcome new ways of thinking and might just support your suggestion. Go to them first to get feedback. If you’re an introvert, it may help to “test drive” your presentation to a supportive audience before taking it up the ladder.
Employers: How to be a Better Listener
Let’s look at the other side. Those in the trenches often come up with great ideas for change that can boost profits and more. Organizations that value and act on employee suggestions reap the rewards of higher employee engagement. Despite your busy schedule, it’s vital to set aside time for what your employees have to say.
Here are employer tips for listening:
1. Saying “My Door Is Always Open” Is Never Enough
Go to your workers first. Ask for feedback — and keep asking. They might not have anything for you the first time you approach them. But if you keep coming back to them, they will come to you when they have something to share.
2. If You’re Committed to Change, Say So Publicly
If employees see that you use some of their ideas, they’ll be more likely to offer them. Even if you took an idea and reworked it completely, or if the employee only gave you a small piece of what was actually used, give credit where credit is due. Employees don’t want to think you’re using them just to make yourself look good.
3. Be Respectful
Share your opinions with subordinates in a respectful manner that leaves room for change. They’re listening to you, and your words have an impact. Show them the same courtesy you would expect them to show you, and they’ll be more likely to open up.
4. Remember Your Perspective Is That of One Person
You see one part of the picture, and your employees often see another. When evaluating their ideas or suggestions, keep in mind what they do and don’t know about the organization and their everyday job experiences. Listening intently to your employees will only enhance your overall understanding of the landscape.
5. Keep It Strictly Business
Allowing personality conflicts to prevail over data or becoming defensive will shut down all efforts to make things better, and then no one benefits. Good ideas should take priority. As the employer, you’re expected to maintain and model the correct attitude.
6. Acknowledge Employees’ Contributions
When you do take up an employee’s idea, make that employee stand out through some sort of reward or recognition. Email others to let everyone else know. Mention it in the company newsletter. This encourages more employee ideas and suggestions.
Your business is more than just a place of work. It’s the setting for an ongoing dialogue of business needs and business solutions, a conversation where good ideas can lead to real-world profits.
As an employee, you should be willing to speak up and be heard. As an employer, you need to be receptive of all opinions and perspectives. It’s these moments when everything comes together.
What ideas can you speak up for? Where have you noticed the potential for improvement in your organization?
Dan Davenport is the co-founder and Senior Vice President of Global Operations at RiseSmart and is responsible for directing the company’s customer service and fulfillment organizations in both the Silicon Valley and India. Dan has spent his career working for global, technology-focused companies. Prior to RiseSmart, he served as senior director of global sales operations at Sabre Holdings, parent company of Travelocity. In his nearly decade-long tenure with Sabre, Dan led international teams while serving in a variety of senior roles spanning operations, finance and business development.