Making me count

There is a growing recognition that making people feel like they count is a good thing. Quite why this is a growing realisation rather than a way of life is a question for another time.

Traditionally business strategy has been a job of compartmentalisation. Of box filling. We start with what we want to achieve as a business, we work out what we need to deliver as a department and then we tell you what your job is. If all of the jobs add up (theoretically) to what we want to achieve as a business then all must be rosy in the garden. Of course this system, like anything, has a number of benefits and a number of flaws.

Benefits

  • It seems logical
  • It provides us with the security of structure
  • We can always answer ‘who is in charge of this?’ by pointing to a box
  • Individuals are clear on what they should be doing

Flaws

  • Lots of things seem logical without being the best option. The structure described maximises the distance between decision making and first line customer contact. It is less successful than it is on paper.
  • Structure can stifle as well as enable. There is a balance needed. Talent hates being boxed in.
  • If everyone always operates in a box then what happens in the gaps between boxes – and what is the difference between a box and a silo
  • We know that communication cascade in most organisations is unreliable

So how could you give people voice within a system within a system and still have order? Simple. Tell them what the challenge is and support them to solve it. As teams. Feeling important (because they are). Combine these things that I have seen work brilliantly and you get a headstart. Nothing here is an original concept – it is combining the best examples of it working that I have come across.

i) Educate – Take your vision for the organisation then cocreate a vision for the department then ask teams to go away and think of the best way to deliver that vision. There will be things they might not understand yet (budget constraints, financial models) but if you want them to truly feel involved then you need to help them understand that. Objective setting for the year shouldn’t be a box ticking exercise, it should be a joint statement of ambition. Your role as a manager or leader is to fill in the gaps that people need to complete the puzzle. To give them all the information they need to agree on what they need to do. It allows them to define a contribution for themselves rather than being allocated a box. It’s difficult to impose a sense of purpose, it’s far better to support people finding it on their own.

ii) Learn from Pot Noodle – I once visited a pot noodle flavour factory (long story). As I moved from room to room each of them had a simple graphic on the wall. It said ‘why what we do in here is crucial to making our products great’. It then described their work and standards. Every person in that factory understood the end goal and their role in it. Simple and effective. Allowing people to explore this for themselves is even more powerful.

iii) Do it all together – When I was running an OD team (and had fewer white hairs in my beard and my knees didn’t hurt in the morning) we attempted to define our contribution as a team before allocating specific work. We ended up with joint accountability and sharing of work in a way that we wouldn’t have had if I simply sat down with each member of my team to plan their work. Why? Because people bounce ideas off each other and because they knew their work better than I did.

Cascade if you must, but try a little trust.

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