Leadership and management

Throw Out Your Crystal Ball

The beginning of the year is full of predictions for business. I’ve seen dozens of articles in HR magazines and business reports talking about trends and pitfalls. While the articles are interesting, there is not a lot of new information on the progressive actions businesses should engage in to keep up organizational and employee success. There is a focus on external resources – tools, processes, programs, etc – to help spur success, but not much focus on the untapped creativity and ability within your own organization.

I’ve seen too many owners look outside of their organizations instead of looking in; they adopt business trends that don’t pertain to their industry, ignore good information because they don’t like the messenger, and adopt quick fixes because the longer term fix may seem too hard to carry out. They completely ignore the insights of the people doing the real work… so they might as well be looking at a crystal ball for answers and hoping for the best.

Progressive businesses use appropriate metrics, trends, and goal setting strategies to plan for their future – they also share the organizational goals with the entire team and ask for feedback.

  • They fold the organizational expectations into their everyday actions,
  • Share information company wide, and
  • Expect all staff members, not just managers or supervisors, to pay attention to issues, trends, technology, and ideas and bring those ideas to the table.

Progressive businesses foster an environment where everyone has a voice and gets encouraged to share ideas that can help the company keep up a competitive edge.

I’ve meet many owners who don’t agree with this idea. They believe that if you give your employees a voice, let them express ideas for business growth, or organizational direction that you will have too many people sharing ideas and not enough people being productive….BAH!

Good managers and organizations with strong cultures are able to listen to their staff members, gather information without the fear of thinking the employees are taking over, and know that every idea brought forward doesn’t have to get implemented.

I actually had an executive tell me that they had a practice of not acknowledging ideas or praising their employees too much because “they would expect to get listened to all the time, and might share stupid ideas.” I had another manager share their belief that if they solicited ideas from their team members they became obligated to use them. So they didn’t ask for ideas… Wow.

I’m not asking for companies to become completely democratic or carry out ALL ideas – that is a recipe for disaster. I’m suggesting that a function of good management and Leadership is to engage your employees in conversations, ask for comments on ideas, and offer opportunities for your teams to help the company achieve success.

Correcting the misconception that all ideas brought forward have to get implemented is a function of good management, supervision, and effective communication – just be clear. “We thank everyone for their ideas; we’ll take them and figure out what works best for the organization.”

Crystal Ball I believe providing a vehicle for open communication is vitally important for the success of an organization. I also believe that the knowledge and information your staff poses could be the key to unlocking infinite possibilities. Information is power…but only if you have the right information and know what to do with it. Good organizations keep their ears open and urge all of their staff members to share thoughts, insights, and ideas.

We’ve encouraged employee engagement by creating an exercise called “If I Ran The Company.” We challenged employees to present ideas individually and in teams on what they thought could help make their organization successful.

They brainstormed ideas, looked at interdepartmental deficiencies, poor processes, organizational silos, and set out to find the best internal resources (people or departments) to help make their ideas a reality. And then we asked them to go one step further, figure out how to pay for their ideas. Tell us what resources would be needed to bring the product or process to reality, the projected costs and benefits, and the timeframe for completion; we asked them to think like owners.

Engaging your staff and encouraging them to “Run the Company” means that you give them information, opportunities, and resources to understand why the ideas could be good or not so good for the organization. You must trust your staff to think about the complete success of the company.

The purpose of the “If I Ran The Company” exercise was to ask for ideas, but also to bring people, groups and departments together to think about the success of the organization on more than a cursory or selfish level. It produces action-oriented ideas, encourages teamwork, and exposes weaknesses in process. It also helps you discover potential leaders who are able to think about the broader implications of their ideas.

Anyone can have moments where they complain about another department, process, or product and say “if I ran the company” I would do something different. But our experience shows that very few people spent time and effort understanding the real impact their ideas would have on the organization. Sometime employees make decisions by staring into a crystal ball too.

When you engage your staff teams in the exercise of finding ways to strengthen the organization, and give them the time and tools to really understand the impact their ideas can have, you can create a stronger more engaged workforce.

You hired your employees to do more than just complete tasks – your hired them to make your organization excellent. Give them every tool to run the company and your future will be bright.

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