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Valuing and acknowledging people

A key part of being a leader is being able to value the strength of the team around you and acknowledge the effort they put in and results they bring to the organisation. However, this skill doesn’t come naturally to everyone and it can be worked on to become part of routine and practice to build a positive and supportive workplace culture. In rare disease patient groups it may be easy to forget to do this and employees often have a personal connection to the cause and therefore see it as a duty, however it is still important that people feel valued and a key part of the organisation.

Here are some ways to build up this culture and acknowledge your team in a constructive way:

  • Provide regular, constructive feedback. This shows that you want your staff to be the best they can be. Regular feedback allows them to refine, improve and build new skills regularly as they will be constantly listening and learning. You can also grow your relationships by taking regular feedback on your performance as a leader, the ability to take regular feedback demonstrates that you trust your team and value their opinions and that you are developing alongside them and the team is learning together.
  • Invest in them. If you are able to and have the time, a great way to show that you value your team is through investing in training for them and the resources that they need to succeed. It may be useful to ask your team what training they think they would benefit from or see if taking part in a coaching or mentoring programme would work for them.
  • Acknowledge people publicly. Acknowledging that you value people in team meetings and at public events can be a great way to show someone you are proud of them and value their accomplishments.
  • Proactively seek guidance from them. There is no better way to show someone that you value their opinion and what they have to say than asking them for it! This benefits everyone as you will also get a new perspective on what you are asking about and may even change your approach to it.
  • Give them the opportunity to use their strengths. We all love doing what we are best at but sometimes the nature of our organisations doesn’t let us take advantage of that. But when people are doing things they excel at, they are able to deliver great value whilst feeling valued. Look out for situations and projects in which different individuals can leverage their strengths.

Giving constructive feedback is a great way to show people you value them and want them to develop and succeed. This diagram shows a structured process that can be used to give feedback in a constructive manner.

What is innovation?

Innovation is the application of new ideas and creative thinking to approach problems and tasks. An ‘innovative culture’ means the behaviours, values and processes that make consistently delivering new ideas possible. Innovation is great for charities and small organisation as it allows people to get the best out of limited resources through clever thinking and strategy.

As a leader of a small rare disease charity or patient group it may be daunting to approach innovation and try and incorporate it into your own strategy. However, you don’t need to be a big business leader to develop innovation in your practice as it is more about the mindset through which you approach projects and issues. Innovation isn’t about reinventing the wheel but can be about small changes and projects that set you apart and embody the spirit of your organisation. It can be about doing something completely new for a community fundraising project or changing the structure or even starting a new series on your social media. What matters most is that innovation can be built into the way your organisation thinks and operates and this can be done slowly through small actions. Staff must be allowed to lead innovatively in their area of expertise whilst leaders must have the courage to try new ideas and evaluate what innovative practices work and which don’t.

How to be more innovative

Some steps that make innovation easier to approach are:

1. Embrace the opportunity mode of thinking. Instead of innovation being the responsibility of just one or two individuals, it can become an approach that everyone adopts by embracing an opportunistic perspective on what needs to be done. If problems are viewed as opportunities and if you are eager to try new things, then there is more space for innovation and growth. When we view things as opportunities we become more alert to the possibilities that are available to us and expand our world views.

2. Be clear about why you want to innovate your organisation. Think about what you want to change, why and how? Then communicate this with people and make it public. Innovation to help others more starts with leaders taking the responsibility to act and taking on the role of pioneer. This can be very hard, especially if you are in an organisation with limited resources that is more naturally risk averse. However, innovation can often pay off more than being static as we live in a fast-paced world where innovation and risk taking are prized and paid attention to. Anyone can identify a need for change and voice it and anyone has the potential to lead change.

3. Build a diverse team. If you are able to, re-evaluate your team and your board. Do they bring you the skills you need to move forward and what’s missing? Diversity of skills, people and perspectives are valuable for every organisation as diversity of people means diversity of ideas. Of course it is not always possible to alter existing boards or recruit new people, this means investing in ways to make your existing teams more creatively diverse. This could be through specialised training or mentoring and coaching programmes. It can also be a case of seeing what happens when everyone in your organisation is given the space to innovate and feels empowered to lead and do so. Make a commitment to making your organisation more diverse next time you do recruit new people; this will mean more effort than simply looking in circles you already know but will likely pay off in the long run.

4. Understand how innovation currently works. Many charities and smaller organisations have a policy of ‘tentative innovation’ where innovation is allowed to happen but only in tightly controlled conditions. Although it is necessary to manage risks this is also a barrier to development and can mean that new ideas can be shut down before they are even properly considered. Good leadership in this situation involves reassuring staff who may be wary of change and innovation. To mitigate anxieties it is necessary to test out the level of innovation and risk that is needed in your organisation. This means considering new ideas instead of brushing them off as to risky. This could also mean deciding who is responsible for innovation in the organisation as innovative practice works best when everyone is involved and able to contribute their thoughts and ideas. It is important to be totally clear that your team is allowed to contribute innovatively to discussions as this will empower to speak up with their suggestions. Emphasise in meetings that you are keen to hear from everyone and you are willing to listen to all ideas to make sure this approach is clearly communicated.

5. Learn from everywhere. An innovative culture is built on learning and seeking knowledge that could help you, even in the most unexpected places:

  • Challenge what is known and unknown. Don’t take things for granted, ask questions from others and learn from things other people have tried. Learning can happen anywhere so don’t just look at what other charities and patient organisations are doing but look at other businesses and enterprises and gather expertise wherever you can.
  • Take your time. Spend as much time listening, observing and understanding others in the field and those close to your cause. Try to actively listen to others as much as possible and try dedicating some time to attending events that allow you to take time out to listen and learn.
  • Look for gaps. Consider what others haven’t done and why, what can you add to what already exists instead of replicating. This means spending time on questions rather than answers. Question what you’re doing and how it could progress further. Ask yourself what you’ve always wanted to do and why you haven’t done it yet. To keep focus, figure out what the most important questions you need to answer are.
  • Know that answers sometimes come from the outside. In the rare disease world especially more often than not it is valuable to seek external help to allow you to reach where you want to be. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and let others inspire new ideas.

6. Know when to intervene. Although innovation is key you don’t always need to be doing it to be successful, they key is picking the right time to innovate and the right things to be innovative with. Ask whether a new method would be better than the current one and would it divert your attention from more pressing needs? Often innovation does not equal a blank slate but rather making creative tweaks to existing practice to make it exceed and solve problems.

7. Share everything you learn. Innovation is worthy both when it works and when it doesn’t. It is worth recording everything you try whether it succeeds or fails. The key is not constant success but building a culture where experimentation and learning are valued as highly as success. Gathering data and information about what you’ve tried as this keeps you accountable to trying again and maintains transparency. Being truly prepared to try things differently means accepting that failures will happening but being able to learn from the, is where the real value lies.