A view from Dave Trott: Initiative versus obedience
A view from Dave Trott

Initiative versus obedience

An economist, Michael Housman, was working for a company selling software to help employers recruit and retain staff.

He was mainly dealing with call-centre workers: in customer service or sales, for telecoms, retail or the hospitality industry.

The main issue for these employers is staff retention.

Call centres have a 45% turnover, costing them a fortune in recruitment and training.

Housman’s software included a 45-minute online job assessment.

To see if anything could be learned from the data, he analysed the responses from 30,000 staff.

What he found was surprising.

He found that the length of time employees stayed in their jobs was related to their choice of web browser.

Employees who responded on Chrome or Firefox were likely to stay 15% longer than those who responded on Safari or Internet Explorer.

But more than that, those who used Chrome or Firefox would take 19% less time off work – and they also reached high customer satisfaction levels 25% quicker than employees who used Safari or Internet Explorer.

Plus they had higher sales, shorter call times, and got through more calls.

So they did more work, they did it better, and they stayed longer.

Why was that – was it because Chrome and Firefox were much better web browsers?

Nope – the truth is it had nothing to do with the web browsers.

It had everything to do with the people.

Safari was the default browser on a Mac, Internet Explorer was the default browser on a PC.

People who didn’t question anything just used the browser on the computer they were given.

Consequently they did their job the same way.

They never questioned anything, they just read responses from the script, no matter what the customer said.

But employees who used their initiative were less likely to accept the default browser.

They made the effort to find a browser they thought was better, Chrome or Firefox.

And they did their job the same way.

They looked to see if they could improve on the script they were given.

They actually listened to what callers said and had an actual conversation.

They used their initiative.

Something the other employees wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do.

So these people did a better job, and stayed longer at their job.

Aren’t these the sort of employees everyone should be looking for?

Why then, especially in our business, do we try so hard to kill initiative?

Especially in a business which is supposed to be creative.

Why do we reward people who learn to act like automatons, cranking out meaningless jargon from the same approved script?

How do we expect creativity to occur when we do our jobs in a way that discourages it?

Initiative has become synonymous with a rebel, which has become synonymous with risk.

But what if we practised what we preach, what if we gathered and looked at the data?

What if, like Housman, we found that initiative was synonymous with advantage, and advantage was synonymous with growth?

What if we encouraged real creativity instead of just paying it lip service?

What if we found that initiative (creativity) was good for business?

For that, we have to use our own initiative.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.