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Last week I was an ambassador at the Smokey Robinson Concert at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas. At 82 years old, he sang, danced, and told stories about his life including the early days of Motown.

For those that may not know him, according to Biography Magazine, “Smokey Robinson is second to only Berry Gordy in the founding of Motown. A prolific songwriter, he is credited with 4,000 songs and 37 Top 40 hits, including “Tracks of My Tears,” “Being with You”, and “Love Machine.”

Smokey wrote songs that were recorded by the Supremes, the Miracles, the Temptations, Michael Jackson, Mary Wells, and a host of others. He knew his gifts and became iconic by sharing his talents and songs.

According to Wonder Week Magazine, “At Motown’s 1966 Christmas party, the story goes, Smokey Robinson was handed a near-complete instrumental track, and was invited to finish it. Robinson typically worked alone.” Smokey took the instrumental and created lyrics to what would become his only No.1 hit, “Tears of a Clown.” The track was given to him by 16-year-old Stevie Wonder and is considered one of Motown’s Top 100 hits.

By now, you are probably hearing music in your head or singing the words to the song, “There’s a smile on my face…”

The bottom line, you never know where your gifts are going to come from. Your next No. 1 hit could come from the employee that shares that out of the box “interesting” idea. Consider that in 1966 Motown gave an opportunity to a visually impaired kid who others may not have hired. How many other talented artists were missed?

Businesses are “reinventing” after COVID and prioritizing employee engagement to impact the current shortage of talent. One way to evolve as an organization is to ask employees for insight, listen to their feedback, and involve them in idea generation. When employees share novel ideas and bring up concerns or problems, organizations innovate and perform better.

Some organizations utilize technology to access feedback. This may be easier and more efficient to administer but it is less personal. Managers may have better results conducting one on one feedback sessions to foster engagement, relationship building, and trust. These meetings can be short and conducted more frequently. They convey to the employee that you have a commitment to them through conversation and time,  you value their opinion, and that they are important. This may be time-consuming at first, but the rewards far outweigh the time spent.

Harvard Business Review conducted four studies to identify “Why Managers Ignore Employee’s Ideas.”  The  research suggests that “managers are frequently stuck in their own ways of working, and they may not be given the authority to act on ideas or the insights gained. And, even when managers are empowered to act, they still confront demands to show success in the short-term rather than look out for longer-term growth and sustainability.”

Is your organization open to innovative ideas? Answer the following questions for your company and/or department.

  • What messages are you reinforcing for your team?
  • Do you value short-term execution of results and/or long-term thinking?
  • How are new ideas and insights gained from employees?
  • Do managers have skills to respond to employee feedback?
  • Do managers have the authority to make changes?
  • If managers do not have authority, where/how do employees share feedback and ideas to help grow the company?
  • How are winning ideas rewarded and shared?

The answers to these questions will illustrate areas of opportunity, as an organization changing idea may come when you least expect it.

When I worked at Starbucks, a barista in Southern California was frequently asked if they could serve iced coffee. It was summertime, and cold coffee was desired in that climate. At that time, Starbucks only served hot coffee and sold whole bean for home use. This wise and creative barista brought in a blender, and mixed coffee, ice, and water to create an iced coffee beverage. Because of this commitment to service, ingenuity, and an open culture…the Frappuccino was born.

When you give each person honor, respect, and value their opinion, you foster diversity, creativity, and may find the next chart-topping hit.

New ideas are created when they can be discussed freely; but if there is a CORRECT view then you cease to have new ideas. – Margaret Thatcher