Posted on June 16, 2015 @ 1:29am
This conversation isn’t going to be easy for those of us who grew up in business during the “command and control” era – let’s say anyone 40 years old and above. You know, where, for the most part, the boss was the boss, they made the decisions and your job was to carry them out to the best of your ability. But if you stick with this article until the end, you will find an approach that if you have the guts to try it out, will transform the way you lead and transform your business results.
During the early part of my professional career, I watched the senior team come up with the strategic plan in isolation from us all. Sure they may have popped out of the meeting to ask us for some stats or for some missing data, but that was about it. Then after about two months of their closed-door sessions, we were summoned to an All-Employee Meeting in a hotel ballroom where the plan was shared – always to a luke-warm response.
But was that really surprising? If you listened closely to the employees in their seats, you could hear the comments and grumbles which sounded like, “Nobody asked me.” “From what I know about this business, that strategy will never work.”
And always at the end of these strategic sharing sessions, some senior leader would give the directive, “Be sure to collect any left-over strategic plans from the seats – they are highly confidential and we don’t want them to get into our competitor’s hands.” I can remember picking up the leftover plans off of the seats thinking, “You could Fed Ex this plan to our competitors and it wouldn’t make a difference. The bigger problem is we haven’t captured the hearts and minds of the people who work here – the best of them are only mildly interested in making what is written down in this plan happen.”
Juxtapose this process with another one that I was involved at the same time while working at GE. It was called “Work-Out”. It was a process introduced by Jack Welch and I was trained as a Work-Out facilitator. Basically, we brought frontline people together to process map a specific process and then suggest solutions that would streamline that process. Once the solutions were generated and suggested to the Manager, the Manager had to respond to those recommendations. The whole thing was brilliant because Work-Out delivered some really terrific solutions from people who were closest to the process. An added bonus was the employees who participated in the process felt appreciated and excited to implement the changes.
Work-Out worked was built on two key crowdsourcing leadership principles:
- The crowd is smart.
- People support what they help to create.
The Manager had to give up control and let the people closest to the business drive the business solutions.
So what does this mean for you as a leader? It means asking yourself:
“How much do you trust your “crowd”?
This won’t work if you don’t believe in the brilliance of your crowd.
We recently led a Crowdsourcing retreat for Non-Profit leaders and we asked them to guess the number of jelly beans in a container. They were to write their number down on a card and submit it to us. We then would add up all the guesses and divide it by the number of submissions. Before sharing the results, we asked this room full of leaders if they had faith in this process, that the crowd would have a better guess than any of the individuals. A clear majority said no, they did not believe in the wisdom of even their own crowd. The results? The crowd’s jelly bean number was closer than any one individual in the room – the crowd indeed was wiser.
“Are you willing to do things differently to get better results?”
Crowdsourcing leadership takes more time upfront - it takes time to get others involved, but the success rate is higher because there is ultimately no “sell” in the end. Your solutions will be smarter because they have more perspectives built in and the initiatives will be supported because your people helped to craft them. I recently met a really bright, passionate young leader who had revised the company’s handbook herself. When she unveiled the handbook with the rest of the company, she was surprised that the reception was less than terrific. She couldn’t figure out why everyone wasn’t as excited as she was – after all, she had worked so hard on it and this handbook was an improvement over the last one.
So how do you begin? For those who like to have control over outcomes, this process can be scary. You can ease into this style of leadership by starting small – ask those around you for input on pieces of the plan vs. inviting them to re-write the entire plan.
The good news is, if you have the courage and patience to adopt a crowdsourcing approach to the things you are working on, your job will get easier (it’s not all up to you), your results will reflect the wisdom of your crowd and your employees will be way more engaged. What could be better?