Sunday, November 10, 2013

Workplace Wisdom XIV..Taking the initiative

‘IN this company, no one has the time to hold your hand and teach you, you must be a self-starter.  Take the initiative and forge ahead.  Be a performer…’  Very encouraging words indeed and the new employee is filled with enthusiasm.  At last he has found a job which will give him the freedom to function as he wants and forge ahead under his own steam.  At last he has found the ideal boss who appears to have the confidence in him to give him the green signal to be a self-starter.  Alas!  Soon enough he discovers that what the boss conveyed to him was in the manner of a recorded message, replayed routinely to every fresh employee gullible enough to believe it.  The words were actually a code which when deciphered means.  “I have no time to waste telling you what to do. Find out for yourself and get busy and if it’s not what I want, I can blame you for your non-performance and incompetence and absolve myself of all responsibility.”
True; employees should take the initiative to the extent that they make it a point to learn everything about their organization from accessible and reliable sources. They should go out of their way to equip themselves with the necessary information so that they are as well prepared as they can be for their performance.  Put this is as far as they can go.  From this point on, in all fairness, employees must have the additional input of authoritative guidance in areas to which he does not have independent access.  They must also be guided on the style of functioning of the organization so that their contribution integrates smoothly with that of the established order.  Obviously, this does not mean devoting a disproportionate amount of time to a new employee who must be first apprised of his duties and what is expected of him.  Once this is spelt out, he must be accountable to a particular person who has the necessary authority to brief him and provide a flow of relevant information till such time as he gets a hold on the job.
 An important ‘tool’ for self-starters should be a certain degree of authority sanctioned by the boss which the other employees should be made aware of.  Knowing that he is authorized to go about his duties on his own, without having to run to his superiors to intervene on his behalf, will get his colleagues to co-operate.  A certain amount of official clout has to be given to him, without which he may not get the support of those with whom he has to interact.  Another necessary ‘tool’ is a proper, comprehensive brief from the boss.  The tragedy of most self-starters is that, in their enthusiasm to display initiative they go beyond the bounds of their authority. This does not reflect inefficiency – it only indicates that there is a lack of proper direction.
 Bosses who casually direct an employee to take the initiative sometimes overlook the fact that subordinates – especially those who are relatively new to the organization – don’t have the advantages they enjoy as senior personnel of demanding obedience, commanding resources and reaching out for information.  The junior, minus all these, has little choice but to tread warily sometimes tactfully, knowing when to assert himself and when to depend on a senior person for help.