Being an innovative employee is made up of two components:
- Having innovative ideas
- Participating in their execution
Most people have good ideas, but only a very small percentage of these ever sniff execution at all, much less participate meaningfully. This is because most management structures enable mediocrity by providing employees with boxes to check, grading them on that box-checking and then believing things are going great.
If you are part of a structure like this, you have most likely had ideas that were either shot down entirely or merely acknowledged in some meaningless way (Good job, buddy! We value you! Here’s a key chain!). This is the tell-tale sign of a mediocre environment: no meaningful action. For innovative ideas to be meaningful they have to be acted on in some way, whether that is the idea actually being implemented or even just a viability analysis that determines it won’t work.
When your ideas are not acted on, it harms your company because they lose to more innovative competitors; there is immediate opportunity loss, but also an ever-devolving workforce. With no action, there is less likelihood you will continue to provide value above and beyond your box-checking duties because you weren’t rewarded for providing it in the past.
You must rise above this mediocrity for your own sake. The burgeoning trend in organizations is to dump layered management structures in favor of smarter, more empowered employees who don’t need heavy management. When that happens to your organization, you want to be retained as one of the folks who can thrive in the new environment, not laid off because you’re just a box-checker. You also need to build your legacy for a successful job hunt if that is an option you are pursuing. You need success stories and a meaningful reason for wanting a new position where you are a great fit.
Here is how to rise above mediocrity:
- Keep launching your ideas upward: View your ignored ideas like achievements, not wasted time. At a certain point it may become clear to you that your management will never act on anything you give them, but keep going anyway. If you look at each one like a trophy, it will be easy to use them as a qualification for retention or promotion at your company, or finding a great position at another company.
- Archive your work: Saving your work is powerful when you talk to a new boss or are interacting with a new team because your ignored idea can be quickly revived. It is also proof to a new management team that you are not just a box-checker. When you are a good steward of your work, you also develop an intimate, hard-to-forget relationship with it; this means you have valuable insight to share with your network and hiring managers in your job hunt.
- Keep your rock star status alive: Always remember that if you let your performance slip, even if it is meaningless box-checking stuff, your ideas have no credibility at all. It may be hard at times to plow through, so remember that you are doing this for a bigger reason than just checking the box itself. You are leading your peers to give yourself a platform to pitch (and one day execute) disruptive ideas.
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