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The Perils of Employee Initiative

June 21, 2017

In almost every survey about the employee soft skills gap, employers cite the lack of workers that exhibit initiative. Employers want to hire people who will tackle and solve immediate problems and embrace opportunities to add value to the company. These golden employees would be rewarded for their efforts with rapid advancement.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? But some employees, particularly new hires, get the wrong message. They begin to focus on taking initiative, dropping whatever they are doing to tackle new responsibilities, rather than doing the job they were hired to do. A few are so intent upon finding ways to take employee initiative, that they don’t even wait to be fully trained before “grabbing the reins.” At times, such behavior can be dangerous!

Giving new employees guidelines for when and how to contribute value to the organization, including some noteworthy good and bad examples, may help to make their efforts more productive.

We looked at a few online recommendations given to employees who want to show initiative. The suggestions are excellent, if used wisely. We have provided a few good and bad examples of employee initiative in each category.

Give yourself an assignment:

After a busy shift, a warehouse worker noticed that a lot of sawdust and packing material was left on the floor. She assigned herself the task of sweeping the floor and discarding the mess.

At a saw mill, a worker noticed that a handsaw needed cleaning. He took it outside near a large pile of flammable sawdust to clean it out. Then, he started it up to test it, and a spark set the pile of sawdust on fire.

Do what needs to be done:

In the accounting department, the least favorite job was processing returned items. Sometimes they would pile up for weeks. A clerk had some time and decided to tackle the problem.

In a restaurant, the oil in the fryer broke out in flames and everyone panicked. A worker grabbed a bucket of dirty cleaning water and threw it on the fire, spreading burning oil everywhere and making the fire grow even faster.

Suggest an improvement:

A customer service representative watched the lines at the pharmacy. She noticed that many people waited just to pick up prescriptions that were already filled because they had contacted the pharmacy to refill the order. These customers had to wait in line, while less prepared customers questioned the pharmacist. The representative suggested opening a register to serve only people who pickup pre-ordered prescriptions.

In the same store, another representative realized that most shoplifting occurred in the candy aisle. That representative suggested that the store security officer should be permanently stationed in the candy aisle.

Go above and beyond:

A service representative at a car dealership called a customer to say that her car would not be ready today, as promised. He then drove a loaner car out to her business location for her to use overnight.

The ticket salesperson at the symphony spoke to a couple who had forgotten their tickets for the evening’s performance. They were season ticket holders and donors, and they knew where their seats were located. The performance was to begin in 15 minutes. The salesperson said he could do nothing without their tickets so he could quickly serve the people remaining in line and get them into the concert on time.

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