Would you like your team to provide you ideas for improvement on a regular basis? Would you like to see them contribute more in general? If you answered ‘yes’ to either question, you might be forgetting the value of your team members, the frontline associates. From the plant to the boardroom, every person can provide you perspectives that propel your organization to success.

While most companies use the term employees, at Pacesetter, we only have associates or team members. Our success comes from everyone’s contributions and we view every associate with the highest regard.

Regardless of where your level of engagement currently stands, it is necessary to incorporate associate interaction into the business strategy. If it isn’t in your plan already, have no fear, you can make the change today. With simple tweaks and additions to company culture, the leaders of the business can begin to demonstrate to the team that the team members ideas can shape the future of the company to come.

Investing in Associates

Look at your investment in the workforce as any other investment the company makes. Today, that investment runs beyond the antiquated days of the suggestion boxes, blind surveys and other conventional practices that produced breeding grounds for negativity, resentment and little to no dialogue to benefit from.

At Pacesetter, we embrace an open door policy that cultivates candidness and a wealth of innovative ideas that propel us and the industry ahead. When I joined the business in 2010, I met with every team member one on one to hear their ideas. Their opinions and suggestions ranged in topics across the company, providing me a keen perspective on the needs and wants of Pacesetter. Many of which helped shape plans and initiatives.

Leadership at all levels has to put in the work to reap the benefits. If left up to the associate, the conversation may not start. That’s because associates may feel hesitant to speak up at first. If culture is suboptimal, a trust may not fully be there. Speaking up may cause them anxiety about their job status. Enhanced communication practices must need to be adopted by all levels of the company to avoid and fix these issues. Leadership must clearly define the vision and challenge the team members to develop the “how.” Once everyone is on board, the dialogue can change. Associates will freely share ideas with one another and with leadership. Collaboration will be rampant and organic. Ideas will grow and expand and then come to life. The vision will become reality.

When associates see their ideas considered and some implemented, they are eager to provide more actionable ideas that they can see put into motion. The key is continued communication about the vision and direction of the company so that people can provide relevant ideas. If associates do not clearly understand leadership’s goals, then they will likely provide unactionable ideas and get discouraged quickly. When communication is clear from the top, it is easy to explain to a team member why a particular idea is not a priority to explore at the time. If an idea is not going forward, or it is not currently a priority to implement, leadership must communicate to the individual(s) who had the idea so that they clearly understand they were heard and the why. This way they will continue to contribute.

For Pacesetter, I created our Vivid Vision. This document describes who and what Pacesetter will be on December 31, 2017. It purposefully leaves out the how. That is up to our team to figure out. I have challenged them to come up with the ideas and solutions. Our associates know that all ideas should help us achieve our Vivid Vision. This is our filter. We prioritize implementation of actionable ideas by the resources needed, ease to accomplish and level of impact. This level of clarity has our entire team speaking the language of solutions and innovation rather than complaining about the problems.

Indicative of our call to the industry to continue innovating, Pacesetter embraces Silicon Valley’s spirit of growth through innovation. Each of our facilities has a “Can You Imagine Wall.” This whiteboard wall is there for the team to write their thoughts and ideas all over the wall. We launched a formal Innovation Implementation Team (IIT) to take the actionable ideas from the wall, organize and prioritize them and oversee implementation by dedicated resources. The Wall provides the IIT and our associates an outlet to brainstorm and collaborate, has improved cross-functional communication, and has helped us achieve many of the goals laid out in the Vivid Vision.

The Modern Investment

As I already mentioned, the early days of office communication won’t get you the desired feedback. That’s why embracing interaction, the real source of feedback in the office, is essential. If current interactions aren’t doing enough, consider the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes. He said, “Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” Start spreading ideas, build your own Can You Imagine Wall, step outside the box just a bit and see what’s becoming the new conventional approach. By sharing ideas, we interact in a way that eases minds and opens more avenues for creative solutions.

But what about surveys? For a surface level look, they’re still great assets. But to go deeper, consider taking associates to lunch. Try random lunches with just a team member or two at a time. Have no agenda. Take a genuine interest in your team. Get to know them as individuals. Ask them about their families, hobbies and other areas of interest outside of work. Learn what they want to do in their careers and how you can help them achieve their goals. As they feel more comfortable with you, they will share more ideas. Ask questions about how to improve and you will be surprised at the innovative ideas and information you will get. Be open and willing to listen and the feedback will come.

There are several approaches and ideas you can take to avoid frontline neglect. Even if the company is on top of the movement, be sure to stay connected and to learn about the best workplace practices. Neglect can creep into a workplace culture quite easily if not maintained. Remember to keep vision and communication clear and you’ll have provided the entire team with the path it needs to continue moving in a productive, progressive future.