Managers often hire consultants to help them solve major organizational problems. The consultant will interview key leaders and staff, run focus groups, and gather input from a variety of sources. Many ideas are sifted through, and the most relevant one presented to management along with the consultant’s recommended action plan.

What’s too often a sad comment on the organization’s lack of leadership is how frequently the consultants present ideas or solutions that have been inside the organization for years. Managers are hearing them for the first time. Or they’re finally paying attention because the ideas are coming from outside experts.

To draw out these ideas, managers have sometimes tried formalized approaches like suggestion systems. These have mostly failed. A disgruntled staff member put a sign on a suggestion box suggesting what he or she thought was happening, “Please don’t put any more ideas in here. The handle is broken, and it won’t flush.”

Most of us don’t bother providing ideas or feedback when we feel it’s pointless. That’s especially true when a manager’s loud declarations of their “open-door policy” are met with a closed mind. These managers will misinterpret the sound of silence as a sign that there aren’t any problems.


Ways to Avoid Sinking Your Organization

As the Thirty Years’ War was raging in Europe, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden commanded mighty warships be quickly built for him to retain dominance in the Baltic. The Vasa was the first of five huge ships constructed. It was loaded with more than twice as much firepower as the most powerful European warships.

The king micromanaged and pushed hard for quick delivery. He ignored or shut down any advice that what he was forcing on the shipbuilders wasn’t feasible. Sounds like he operated by the classic autocrat’s creed; “All those opposed to my plan, respond by saying ‘I resign.'” Like many just-do-what-I-say leaders, he was often wrong, but never in doubt.

On August 10, 1628, the Vasa was launched. As soon the sails filled in the light breeze, the ship heeled violently and sank in front of a huge crowd just 120 meters (393 feet) from shore. Up to 150 people on board drowned.

No one of us is as smart as all of us. Here are some ways leaders can tap into the organization’s knowledge, experience, and partner with everyone involved in implementation:

  • Work with your internal partners to develop an annual Listen-Feedback-Action process. This often starts with surveys and third-party interviews or focus groups. The outside company then prepares a summary report. Take the report to everyone in the organization for feedback, clarification, priority-setting, and action planning. Once these sessions are completed, identify broad organizational issues and set action plans for implementing those changes. Regularly report back to everyone on progress and adjust.
  • Chart engagement and retention rates. Ask for action plans from every manager on how they will increase engagement and retention. Review your strategies for understanding what common causes your organization may have for draining energy and/or losing good people. Ask people in your organization what it would take to increase energy and cut your turnover rates in half, and develop a plan based on their recommendations.
  • Spend heavy amounts of time with people on the front serving lines, production lines, or support offices. You know you’re involving and engaging people when your presence isn’t a royal visit or special occasion, and people are comfortable in challenging your actions and flagging potential problems.
  • Hold regular breakfasts (some have called this “muffins with management”), lunches, and celebration dinners with frontline teams. Take this time to ask for feedback, concerns, and suggestions. A simple question such as: “What’s the dumbest thing management asks you to do?” can produce powerful insights and engage people in resolving the issues raised.
  • Keep units small and decentralized. This promotes unity, commitment, and independence. People can move quicker and more readily see the results of their actions.
  • Simplify systems and streamline processes. Support systems that get in the way, bureaucracy, errors, rework, and inefficiency kill commitment while slowing things down and adding lots of cost. Ask frontline service providers what systems and processes would better help them serve your customers. Get their involvement in prioritizing the areas to be changed and improved.
  • Use focus groups (a cross-section of frontline staff) to test new management directions before making grand announcements to everyone. Even if you press on against the advice of the focus groups, you’ll have deeper insight into how to face the issues the new direction may raise.
  • Do you have a bunch of nitpicking rules that add up to one big “I don’t trust you?” How do you know? What are you doing to identify and prune them?
  • Work together with everyone during downturns to avoid layoffs when costs need to be slashed. Discuss reduced work weeks, cutting back overtime, leaves of absence or sabbaticals, redeploying people, early retirement packages, work sharing, lending staff to external partners or customers, reducing non-value-added work, etc. Treat them as business partners, and not a “headcount” to be reduced.


 Fusion Inclusion: Igniting Renewable, Keen Power

Recently, a Reuters headline reported that “US scientists repeat fusion ignition breakthrough for 2nd time.” The test “produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to drive it.” The article quotes the Energy Department, calling this “a major scientific breakthrough decades in the making that will pave the way for advancements in national defense and the future of clean power.”

This is exactly what happens in a high-energy culture. Leaders with high partnering and inclusion values and practices create a fusion that produces much more energy.