By Publishing House Mérida (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsYou want energized and enthusiastic employees, right?

A great way to grow a group of fantastic workers is to give them the ability to create, to innovate … even to play. But how do you keep them from wasting time and being distracted?

It all comes down to defining a great “playground.”

Most people in business define this very simply: When you’re off work, you can have fun and be creative. When you’re at work, you follow the rules and do your job.

The result of this approach is that your employees’ enthusiasm is not applied to work. Work is about compliance. Sure, you can continue to ratchet up the pressure to improve performance, but people will do the minimum to comply. You won’t get the significant leaps which could make a huge difference.

So give people a place where their imagination is welcomed.

Perhaps that’s in delivering your customer experience. For people who aren’t particularly happy with your service today, what would happen if you had employees contribute ideas for how to do it better? What if they got the chance to experiment around a little, to see what could be improved?

The result is that your workers will see that they’re valued as individuals, and can maybe make things just a little bit better.

There are two dangers to watch out for. First, you might give people the impression that they can go crazy and that the rules don’t matter anymore. To counter this, you have to put a boundary around where this kind of activity is valued, and specifically mention the rules that aren’t negotiable. The second danger is that you don’t follow through. Like the stereotypical Suggestion Box which is never actually opened, you might welcome people’s inputs but then never change anything as a result. That just makes people cynical.

Go ahead and set expectations that you’ll only be able to use one idea in 10, or that it may take weeks or months to change something that’s significant. But if you’re serious about improving your business, and think your employees would have some valuable ideas to offer, then you owe it to them – and yourself – to actually do something tangible with what you receive.

To make this work effectively, you’ll also need to educate your employees on how to think at a more business-oriented level.

Suppose you have a discussion about work schedules, because it’s always difficult to give everyone the hours that they’d like. One of your workers chimes in that work hours should be done on a volunteer basis. Of course, everybody else loves that idea because they imagine how wonderful it would be to work when they want and take off when they don’t. As the boss, you have the experience to know exactly why this won’t work: You need a certain number of people at work during certain hours, you need predictability in your ability to do the work and you have to worry about the extra cost of overtime hours.

If you say all that in response to this person’s suggestion, though, it sounds like you’re making up excuses, or worse yet, sabotaging the whole exercise. The better way to handle this is to set boundaries in advance. If we’re going to talk about work schedules, then here’s the criteria that need to be met – and why the rules exist. We need 10 people in the shop during peak hours, and at least four at other times, so that we can serve our customers in a timely manner, answer the phones and do the other work that needs to get done.

That’s how to give people a useful “playground” and help them to tap their creativity to support your business.

Carl Dierschow is a Small Fish Business Coach based in Fort Collins. His website is

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