It was a banner year at ABC Group; business was booming, they completed a major acquisition, initiated huge projects to consolidate decentralized accounting systems, a new leadership development program, a talent management process and, oh by the way, a new business strategy to standardize operational processes.
The executive team was excited – they were all seasoned executives with deep experience in their field, some of them new to the organization, some with tenure. The new execs saw opportunities abounding. The tenured folks saw change.
They had their plans and goals. They had the capital to make technology investments, and were growing apprehensive about the impending talent drain as the boomers would, at some point, retire. They each had teams of A players who wanted to make their mark.
A Different Lens
Let’s travel to levels below the executive team for a moment. Organizational managers, who were initially energized and excited about the new direction, are overwhelmed. Their core jobs were challenging and they were already busy. Layer on learning to pull salient business data from the new data warehouse, integrating and consolidating the newly acquired organizations’ people and processes, reacting to the resistance from employees who were having to work differently. And then, the hours spent writing performance and talent reviews. All this at a time when the core work – making money for the organization – was at its apex.
They wanted to help their employees cope with the change, but were barely hanging on themselves.
And the employees….talk about confusion. To whom do I report now? What new fad are they going to throw on us this time? How long will this one last? Can I just keep my head down and wait for it to pass? I was really good at my work before; now it takes me twice as long to do the same work.
So now everyone is trying to figure out how react to this overwhelmed manager and employee base, and they implement a new concept – each department looks at their work and completes a “stop, start and continue” exercise. Do things change? Of course not. The very people who created the chaos in the first place will defend why the work they are doing must continue. And they will work very hard at that, creating even more workload for managers and employees.
What happened? These are highly successful and intelligent executives creating this chaos. Managers and employees want to do a good job, but can’t. Do situations like this really occur? You bet they do.
There is a way to stop the madness, but organizations and executive teams might be resistant to going there. But it’s really simple – before the madness starts, the executive team has to commit to collective thinking. What is collective thinking? It is putting aside a functional role in order to look at the business holistically, using the collective wisdom of everyone to think, plan and prioritize together based on understanding the capacity of the organization and its people.
What does the executive team need to do differently to think collectively? Here are some ideas.
Trust each other.
Collective thinking requires leaving one’s ego at the door, and trusting that you and your colleagues will collectively make the right decision for the organization. The decisions aren’t personal; your program isn’t being delayed because of you. The decisions are being made because of what is right for the customer, for the business and what the workforce can handle and still do well.
If that trust doesn’t exist, you have some foundational work to do.
Do the initial planning and strategy collectively, not in silos
Don’t keep Human Resources out of the financial decisions; they may have a critical perspective on the numbers. Don’t let Finance excuse themselves from people decisions; their perspective represents a fair contingent of the workforce.
So often, the functional heads take the business plan back to their teams, develop their goals and kick off the work. Those goals, along with the implications to the workforce, have to come back to the executive team to be approved and prioritized through the lens of revenue, expense and capacity.
Use good business intelligence, and look at it collectively.
Data is nothing other than a foundation for dialogue. In an organization, there are few right and no wrong answers, there is only the best decision that can be made based on the best data available, along with the aligned and committed execution of the decision.
But without credible and timely data, you cannot measure outcomes, which means that you cannot adapt and change course as the data evolves.
Use a disciplined process to look critically at the aftermath of decisions.
Assuming it is a fair statement to say that there are few right or wrong answers, only collective wisdom, it stands to reason that some decisions may not be the best when looked at in retrospect. That’s not a failure, it’s a learning opportunity. With a disciplined process of review, organizations can identify possible challenges or obstacles and regroup before they become problematic.
Don’t expect instantaneous results.
The work that organizations do today is the work of change, and change does not happen easily or quickly. If the organization is not getting the expected results, ask why. Don’t change course unless you know the answer to “why.” That is how the “fad of the month” gets started.
Know what your “peeps” are doing
For leaders, it’s critically important to know what and facilitate how your “peeps” are doing work. Doing their work in silos creates chaos for the organization.