Room to Grow

blog Oct 19, 2023

By Natalie Born

I once worked in an organization where the leader would ask, “Why are we not more innovative?” Many suggestions were provided, but I thought three areas offered a clear answer: pace, process and empowerment. Within our organization, and many others, these are three topics that are too often ignored.


A slow pace at work can not only lull the organization to sleep, but it can also allow your competition to eat your lunch. If the pace is too fast, it becomes sink or swim for everyone under the umbrella of your organization. It’s dog-eat-dog, and not many will survive. Even those who make it through onboarding and manage to hang on for dear life typically burn out later.

Leaders often believe that their employees must be booked at 90%, or even 120%, of their capacity. However, that mindset doesn’t leave room for emergencies, fires and, most importantly, creativity and innovation. When we run our teams at 90% capacity or higher, we also lead them into burnout, causing them to become less productive.

It’s during downtime that our brains have an opportunity to recover. Downtime enables us to think innovatively. Organizations struggling with innovation typically have employees who say, “I feel like I have to constantly check my phone,” and, “I don’t know the priority of anything, so I have to treat everything as urgent.” Even worse, “I don’t know how I can vacation or rest because I feel like I am always behind.”

Hearing statements like the ones above is a clear sign that your employees are already burned out or quickly barreling toward it. If your organization lacks pace and rhythm, surprise meetings, surprise projects, and tons of emergencies constantly pop up. This doesn’t create any space to plan for our employees’ vacations, learning and rest.

To open room for thinking, tinkering and dreaming, free your team to operate at 60-80% capacity when working to execute on projects. This allows for interruptions, unpredicted obstacles and time off. It is rare for creativity to be generated out of stress and being under the gun. For most, it comes from having the capacity and bandwidth to dream.


When teams do not have formalized processes documented, they have to recreate the wheel every time a new project begins. Without clear stakeholder matrices, people are not sure whom to include on projects, and, more often than not, important stakeholders are left out.

Having a project framework that everyone can use and follow is part of an organization’s maturity. When this is absent, it takes longer to figure out the best teams to work with and how to engage them. Projects without a clear framework typically deliver over-budget and below expectations. Having formalized processes in an organization helps everyone understand where and how to get things done.


The final challenge is empowering your employees at all levels. Are most initiatives rolled out without talking to frontline employees? Are employees asked for their opinions? Do you have a formal way to incorporate good ideas? If you want to empower, you must put these four steps at the core of employee engagement:

  1. Ask the frontliners for their observations, opinions, and advice.
  2. Find formal and informal ways to cultivate employees’ ideas.
  3. When a good idea emerges, allow them to run with the idea, and give them the credit and support they need to see it through.
  4. Allow them to fail in a safe environment, so they can learn something from the experience.

When pace, processes and empowerment get the attention they deserve, your organization’s maturity will skyrocket. Prioritize these three topics and watch the innovation flow!

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