Archive for the ‘ Autonomy ’ Category

Where do good ideas come from? How to get strategic ideas from line workers.

Ideas are everywhere, but many companies, and leaders struggle to get their teams to speak up and share ideas.  Why?  Some employees may feel it isn’t worth it, that their ideas are not good enough or valuable.  Or that surely, someone “smarter” than them would have already done it or suggested it. Perhaps, they don’t feel comfortable making suggestions or challenging the process.

As a leader there are several things you can do to solicit ideas.  Here are a few:

  1. Ask.  Sound simple?  It is.  Try it.  But when you get a good idea, find a way to celebrate it – publicly.  When you get a bad idea, or one that could never be implemented, don’t shut it down.  Ask more questions.  Understand the idea or spirit behind it.  Let the presenter be heard.  And Celebrate it – publicly!
  2. Suggestion Box (really just another from of asking) – I have seen companies set up digital and analog versions of this. Some work, others don’t.  Just setting up the box isn’t good enough, and the downfall of the process when it doesn’t work.  You need to design a vetting process – maybe as simple as a select group of people to filter each idea, ask the presenter more questions and formalize the process of getting a sponsor somewhere in the organization.  Creating a vetting process helps everyone involved feel engaged and a part of the future.
  3. Focus group meetings – Schedule a meeting with a handful of staff to meet with at least one member of management. Encourage feedback on processes and procedures. Maybe something isn’t working quite as well as you hoped, this might be a good time to figure out why. We met with the owner of one of the top ski resorts here it Utah. Once a month, he schedules a group of his line staff to come in and meet with management. At least one member of management is required to be there. If he is traveling, he makes sure to send someone else, etc. He told us that some of the best ideas have come from those meetings

When an employee is hired, they bring their whole body and mind with them.  It is up to us as leaders to get that out of them, and to have them use all the tools they bring with them.  If ideas aren’t floating around and being harnessed, encouraged, vetted and implemented it is time to look at culture.  What is missing?

Written by Zack Clark, MBA

Zack is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting. Connect with on LinkedIn and Twitter, or leave a comment below.

This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentional corporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.

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The Goldilocks Search for the Right Amount of Information

Information is the life-blood of all businesses. The trick is knowing how much information to share, and with whom to share it.

If you give out too little information, your employees will fill the void with whatever they can divine from the environment. Wide-spread rumors is a sure sign that there is not enough credible information being shared. If you give out too much information, your employees will complain about being over-burdened and confused about what’s expected of them.

Your job is to give out just the right amount of information.  I could try to give you a list of rules of when to share and what to share, but there is no way to cover every nuanced scenario. That list would be ridiculous and a prime example of too much information. What I can give you a list of indicators that your employees have too little or too much information. Your job is to notice and respond to the indicators and make adjustments to what you are sharing based on what you notice.

Signs and symptoms of too little information:

  1. Employees complain during meetings about not having important information.
  2. You hear several different, ridiculous rumors about the future of the company.
  3. Employees leave comments on electronic information boards about how useless they are.
  4. Employees ask to speak with you privately and request that you confirm some information they have heard through other channels.
  5. Employees don’t know the answers to important business questions about data that should be readily available to them. (This is also a sign that there may be too much information.)
  6. Employees have a large amount of skepticism after receiving new information from senior management. You hear attitude like, “We’ll see” after major announcements are made.
  7. Employees complain about decisions being made and implemented without their knowledge.

Signs and Symptoms of too much information:

  1. Employees groan and complain when they are asked to attend meetings where information is shared.
  2. Electronic dashboards and portals have decreased visitations or are ignored.
  3. Employees complain about the number of emails they receive.
  4. Employees complain about the cumbersome system to gain approval for decisions they believe should be theirs to make.
  5. Employees don’t know the answers to important business questions about data that should be readily available to them. (This is also a sign that there may be too little information.)
  6. Employees complain about how everything they are asked to do feels like a number one priority.
  7. Employees start a pool about how many new initiatives will be started each month.

What are some of the signs you’ve noticed that you have too little or too much information at your place of work? We’re very interested too hear your stories!

Written by Clare Coonan, LCSW

Clare is a Senior Consultant and one of the founding partners at Five Degrees Consulting. Connect with her on TwitterLinkedIn, or leave a comment below.

This is a blog we share  between several of the Consultants at Five Degrees, guest authors and colleagues.  We work with companies large and small on People and Organization strategies.  Our work specializes in organizational development, leadership effectiveness and executive development. With a focus on working with leaders at all levels to create an intentional corporate culture, we help organizations increase employee engagement, energize working teams, develop critical leadership competencies and enhance strategic communications for more information about our services, please connect with us.

Life Is Good

I haven’t given this topic as much thought as I eventually will, but I suppose that is what blogging is all about, or can be anyway. Today I took my son with me to buy some office supplies. Pretty boring outing, but one that caused some introspection on my part.

I ran into a former employee, whom I had not seen in quite a while. We were talking in the check out line of the office supply store about life, work, etc. When I told him I was working for two very different companies, but that I was a partner in each his reply was that he had never seen me look happier or less stressed. Wow. I know I feel better than when we worked together, but to have someone comment that they could see it gave me pause. Interesting. That point is definitely worth more thought (and maybe the topic of some future, well thought out blog post).

During the conversation I mentioned that I traveled a ton, and that while life on the road can get old, I cannot beat the flexibility of my life when I am at home, and that I get to spend half the week taking care of my son; after all it is a Monday morning and I am in the office supply store with my 20 month old son and cam calling that “work”. The woman behind me in line commented: “wow, sounds like the perfect life”. And that is the second thought worth pondering and future blog posts.

In business school, or shortly thereafter I probably would have described the perfect life in terms of salary, ability to spend freely, some important title, or in some important organization. Today I think I have to agree with the woman behind me in line at OfficeMax. Life is good.

Compliance vs. Autonomy

In part of our consulting work, especially when working with managers and executives we talk about creating a culture of autonomy instead of a culture of compliance in the workplace.

Essentially, this comes down to involving employees in decisions, seizing the full scope of their mind in the process and capitalizing on the strengths of the team instead of being limited by the limited strength of one person.

As I compliantly write on this rainy Sunday morning I am wondering how well I will do. I am writing because I said I would, not because I am feeling inspired or creative this morning. So, we will see what the next few paragraphs might bring…

I once was working with a group of employees, where I was the new manager, called in to “fix” a “broken” division. Thinking back, the group was awaiting clear direction, and afraid to make decisions on their own, about anything. If a piece of equipment was broken, they wanted permission, or direction on making the phone call to a service technician. If a customer had a complex request – forget about it. This group was lacking empowerment, and therefore had relied extensively on the series of failed managers who were there before me. New to that situation, I almost got sucked into the same pattern. Cell phones were pretty new at the time, and as you might remember – quite expensive per minute. This group would call me all hours of day and night, to ask the same type of simple question and to have me make the decisions of what, where and how to do everything. They thought they needed permission to do their jobs. After the first $500 cell phone bill I knew something had to change, so I decided the company would buy me a pager so that I could call back from land lines instead of cell phone. Wait! What?? How does that solve the problem you ask? IT DOESN’T!!

Two weeks after carrying a pager and cell phone, both of which were alerting me to decisions that required my input around the clock I realized the real problem was that the team needed to learn to make their own decisions. After all, the business unit would be more profitable, operate better (and I would sleep better) if they could answer their own questions in the middle of the night, and if we could harness the mental capacity of the entire team

The transition is tough, but very possible and can change quite quickly. First off you must set clearly defined objectives or goals so that everyone is working to achieve the same thing. The team must have the training necessary to carry out their job function. Access to true and accurate information is crucial – especially information relating to performance and measurement of progress toward the goal. Additionally, the team must be empowered to act, and to trust that you trust them. This, at times requires a leap of faith on the part of the manager or leader – trust your team, and when they make mistakes, don’t blow up, but instead re-teach, train and coach.

After a half-day session about goals, vision, mission, empowerment and trust we made the big change together by me asking more questions, not providing more answers, and encouraging each to take action. My mantra was “it is better to make a wrong decision, than not make any decision”. Over the course of about two weeks the phone calls steadily decreased. The first day following training the calls were the same as before, but I took a much different approach. “What do you want to do?” I would ask or “How do you want to fix it” or similar such question. I would let them respond and encourage creativity. If necessary I would help brainstorm, but never provide an answer. After that dialogue I would again ask “what do you want to do” and this time listen to their full action plan. In time the calls changed from the team asking what to do, to “hey boss, can I bounce an idea off you…” calls to eventually only calls if something was tragically wrong.

A very quick transition, but one crucial to creating a culture of autonomy, where the team was involved in the business and was making active decisions which allowed them to each take individual care of the customer and make the customer’s day. Funny thing, I worked less hours as a leader and was accomplishing much improved financial results because I was truly capitalizing on the strengths of my team. The next year we grew sales of the division by almost double, driving profit to a division that was on the brink of closure as it had been losing money for several years.

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