In a recent post I extolled the virtues of ‘harnessing the collective wisdom’ of your extended account team… This got me thinking about the different types of organisations I’ve worked with over the last 40 plus years, and more specifically, their leaders. I concluded that the most successful leaders I’ve known, the ones that made a sustainable difference, the ones that didn’t get binned after 18 months, are the ones who harnessed the collective wisdom of the people in their business before making big decisions.
Do you remember the Suggestion Box, whereby employees were actively incentivised to contribute ideas? Does that culture still exist? If it doesn’t it should, but the age of command and control seems to be omnipresent, and leaders often appear to believe they know best. Certainly, they are the ones who have to decide what to do, what the strategy is, but they often choose to do this in splendid isolation, rather than make informed decisions based on the collective wisdom of the people who live it every day.
One of our most successful customers (as defined above) asked us to facilitate the development of a three year growth plan for their business. We proposed ‘harnessing the collective wisdom’ of all 80 plus UK employees regarding what worked and what needed to improve, using this ‘collective wisdom’ to inform an SMT workshop that defined the strategy. We now use the original metrics to assess progress on a six monthly basis, ensuring that the three year plan remains relevant for everyone, not just the SMT. The business has beaten every target it set itself, and is well on course to beat their three year growth objectives.
Sadly, what we see more and more is SMTs imposing strategies on their business that were dreamt up by six people in a room one rainy afternoon in the first month or two of the new fiscal year (OK, I exaggerate!). These fail for a multitude of reasons, one being the lack of input, and therefore, subsequent buy in from the very people expected to execute the strategy.
So, what value does this collective wisdom offer decision makers? The list is a mile long; the people in a business live and breathe it every day, they talk to customers, they talk to each other, they know what is going on at the coal face, they have experience from previous organisations, they have ideas (see Suggestion Box above). Harness that and take them with you; ignore them and fail.
So, my question to the decision makers out there is simple; do you value the collective wisdom of your people? My question to people who have to make these decisions work is also simple; do the decision makers in your business seek and / value your wisdom?