Are you unintentionally stifling your employees’ natural curiosity?
If so, you could be undercutting your own business. Curious employees are engaged employees.
It happens. We get caught up in the haste to get things done. We move from project to project without delay so that productivity won’t screech to a halt.
But by doing that, we squelch our teams’ natural ability to think through problems, come up with solutions, and generally see the forest behind the trees.
Curiosity Gets Short Shrift
Why should you care about keeping employees curious?
Because they care.
A state of curiosity survey by Harris Poll showed employees think curiosity should be more important:
- Only 39% of employees say their managers are either extremely encouraging or very encouraging of curiosity
- Only 22% describe themselves as curious at work
- 66% say they face barriers to asking more questions
- 60% say their workplace creates barriers to curiosity into their work, and
- Only 10% strongly agree that their managers preferred new and unfamiliar ideas.
There are small but effective ways to keep employees eager to learn new things. Start with these seven ideas shared by successful managers and business leaders:
1) Challenge Their Game
Give some of the big stuff to the rookies once in a while.
This levels the playing field for entry- and mid-level employees to come up with and implement top-notch ideas, instead of assuming that’s the job of the higher-ups.
“In my experience, some of the best ideas come from within the ranks,” says Cecilia Gorman, a certified John C. Maxwell speaker and trainer. “They look at things with fresh eyes and are eager to see change.”
Let employees who come up with novel ideas spearhead efforts to get them into practice, and let them know you’ll help but that it’s mainly their move. With that in mind …
2) Get Out Of Their Way
There’s no sense in encouraging employees to express ideas only to cheer them on – then stand in the way of making them happen.
If you’re just giving lip service to employees’ contributions, they’ll recognize right away that you don’t take their ideas seriously enough to act on, and they’ll stop showing the curiosity you’re looking for.
3) Make THEM Ask Questions
Albert Einstein famously said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.”
It’s impossible to know if employees have curiosity unless you allow them to ask questions, says Greg Schinkel, manager and team leader trainer. “Organizations can snuff out curiosity by dismissing questions that could lead to new discoveries.”
If your employees aren’t big questioners, Inc.com 500 entrepreneur and author Kevin Daum suggests an easy way to prompt them to do more asking. At meetings or presentations, tell employees to jot down at least three questions that occur to them during the discussion. If they don’t get to ask them during the meeting, tell them to send them to you afterward.
Even if most questions already have answers, this still provides you with an idea of how each employee is thinking about what was presented, and may even open up avenues you didn’t think of during the meeting.
4) Listen More Closely
You’re never going to get curiosity from your employees unless you actively mine them for ideas.
When you sense that your team has grown weary doing the same old things you tell them to do, it’s time to open it up to suggestions. If they’re curious enough to question the old, familiar processes, they might have thought of a more effective way to get things done.
See what’s churning beneath the surface when you hold regular briefings, especially those that commonly address the same problems or issues. You shouldn’t be the only one directing all the ideas and solutions for every single project.
5) Frame Learning As A Perk
Many managers think that if they encourage employees to take seminars or attend conference sessions to keep up with field advancements, the employees will think it’s just another job requirement. This tends to dampen their curiosity to learn more.
When you present learning opportunities in a more positive light, employees will feel you’re invested in their success, both in the present and the future, says Kelsey Meyer, co-founder of Influence & Co. Employees will be happier and more fulfilled, and your company will reap the benefits.
6) Put Coaching On The Front Burner
The best way to get the most curiosity out of coaching is by providing a one-on-one experience with employees.
Remember: You’re not the only one who can coach; enlisting knowledgeable employees as coaches can benefit their co-workers and their entire team.
7) Don’t Be Too Quick With Critical Feedback
When employees are unprepared for specifically targeted feedback, they’re likely to shut down, causing your coaching efforts to be wasted and potentially even backfire, says Matias Rodsevich, a PR & Communications writer at Impraise, a talent management and software company.
Any curiosity they had they’ll try to hide because they don’t want to ask “dumb questions” and come across as naïve.
Even well-intentioned coaching, especially in a one-on-one setting, can be taken personally. Make sure that even if you have to give some not-so-positive feedback, you at least commend the employee for making a good effort, especially if it involved showing curiosity and taking risks.
Keeping employees curious is an often understated but critical part of any manager’s job. The trick is to keep them engaged and invested enough so it rises to the surface – without you needing to fish for it.
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Really love the post, Lisa! Totally agree that learning and curiosity are key to employee engagement. Number 6 is so huge—encourage employees to make each other better! In that way, I think that using the right employee training software can actually increase engagement AND productivity.
A modern LMS that is built for speed and encourages employees to share their expertise and best practices to other teammates is hard to top in terms of scaling a culture of learning across larger teams. Thanks again for the insight!
Lisa McKale says
Thanks too for your input!
I am a little concerned with No.1 above. You have to be careful about giving the new guy (alone) the big stuff as those that have proven themselves or been with the firm for a long time will wonder why they are not getting the big stuff. Yes, you could call them insecure, but this can cause real dissention in the ranks (either the long term employees feeling like they are no longer providing worth to the company and/or perhaps even jealousy). Perhaps a better way in these times is to have them work on projects together, so the long term employee still feels worth and is contributing to the company, and the new guy gets to absorb the knowledge and experience from the long term employee while also being able to work on the big stuff. The new guy could be asked for ideas and input while gaining valuable experience throughout the project from the more experienced employees.
Lisa McKale says
Thanks for the comment, I agree your point is true in many cases. Slow but sure involvement works best.
Great article, it goes with the module we are learning.
I love how it says to listen more closely to your employees! often they have the best ideas and are more prone to positive solutions.!
Hayden Farmer says
Love the post. Being a former athlete I can relate to being a team player. I know what it takes to reach one goal.
Angela McCraw says
I like this I do this a lot with my staff sometimes I can not move on their suggestions or ideas but I have been able to take some of their ideas and make changes with them.
I have round tables once a month with my staff to get ideas from them since they are the ones doing the work they know best what is not working for them.
thought was very interestind and informative enjoyed it