Assume the best in people and reap the benefits

Today there’s lots of talk about “workplace culture” and what’s “appropriate” in the workplace. I continue to hold close the belief that most people have the best of intentions at heart and want to do what is right. Enabling them to feel free to do so is often just a matter of saying, “Yes, I’d like to have your input on this topic; yes, I care about you, and yes, I’m going to put into action some of your ideas.” And, yes, it may not be quite as simple as I’ve made it sound, but it’s also not that difficult. Q. How do I harness the power of my own workforce in terms of getting them to share their innovative ideas?A. What a wonderful and smart intention. Obviously you have learned that good ideas come from all levels of your workforce and that alone puts you way ahead of most other leaders. I am sure that you also know that you need to lead by example and that means you can’t just talk innovation; you need to create a work environment that actually embraces innovation by turning ideas into “Yes” actions. The answer, in part, is to make sure your desire and openness to new ideas is obvious throughout the company or organization. Here’s an idea you might try: Host a few brainstorming coffees with a small group of employees representing various areas of your company. Take the first 15 minutes to get to know each other, the next 15 minutes to rapidly identify a laundry list of challenges facing the organization, and when that’s done, pick one area and spend the next 30 minutes or so brainstorming possible solutions.Then assign a small work group including a few people from the brainstorming group and others intimately involved in the area being discussed and ask them to come up with a recommended implementation plan. Finally, implement the solution.Once you’ve demonstrated that ideas lead to actions, you will be overwhelmed with innovation. Q. My boss asked my opinion of a new hire who I know is a friend of hers. In reality, the new employee seems unqualified for the position to which he was hired. How honest should I be given their friendship?A. A “Begin With Yes” approach certainly promotes honesty, but also places a high value on common sense. Some questions I’d ask myself would include: Why is my boss asking me? Since the hiring has already happened, how will my feedback help? What do I really know about this person and how qualified am I to really have a fact based opinion? In this case, and I think in most cases, your best bet would be to give the new person – and your boss – the benefit of the doubt, hope for the best and do your best to help the new person be a productive and successful addition to the team. If that makes sense, your answer could simply be, “I don’t really have an opinion but am looking forward to welcoming the new hire and will do what I can to make things go smoothly.”Q. It’s my supervisor’s birthday. What’s appropriate for a gift?A. My suggestion: a cup of coffee, a card or simply a sincere wish for a happy birthday. I’ve worked at places where co-workers exchanged what I felt were extravagant gifts and that always felt like a lot of pressure and not a lot of fun. Don’t get me wrong, I generally love gift giving and basically have a generous spirit, but among my peers at work we have unanimously adopted a no gift culture.Paul Boynton, president and chief executive of Moore Center Services, Manchester, is also a personal coach, corporate consultant, motivational speaker, host of the television show, “Begin with Yes” and author of the book by the same name. He can be reached at