There’s plenty of material on the Internet about what fear is, but for the purposes of this Hack, let’s call it the ‘barrier to change.’ After reading a lot of great articles and books the message is the same; the key to a successful business are engaged people. Engaged in work, engaged in development, engaged in life. So why is it so hard and why isn’t everyone doing it? We are all afraid of something; that blockade to our true self or our changing environment. If we take a punt on what’s being told to us, we could see a new business universe.
Fear to Create
Creativity is rife amongst any organisation. Ideas come from all walks of life and many ideas from those without the power to influence change or the strength to get these ideas across. Robert Goldfarb writes about this fear stifling initiative. Staff hear time and time again about budgets, policies and “it wasn’t the manager’s idea so it won’t work.” Beat a person down long enough and watch their disengagement grow. Ideas, good or bad, need to escape and take form. Management would do well to start trusting those who aren’t the formal leaders, those who don’t have the skills or knowledge, they themselves have accumulated and they’ll unleash a chain reaction of creativity.
Fear To Share
Lean Manufacturing teaches us to understand the customer’s needs and to utilise suppliers and other stakeholders as part of the team, not an extension. Teams within organisations often operate as ‘buckets of excellence,’ not wanting to share their toys (information and skills). Information control by management creates distrust amongst the organisation. While our management structure is still influence though legitimate power, expert power is gaining momentum as society moves from an industrial economy to a knowledge-based economy. All stakeholders can be involved in the direction of the team or the organisation, regardless of influence, rights or permissions.
Fear to Relinquish
“No Man Is An Island.” John Donne was right when he meant that human beings do not thrive when isolated from others, yet organisations group people into islands by not teaching them to peer manage and pass on their knowledge. There are plenty of great formal and informal leaders out there doing a fantastic job, giving a 110% and leading the way. Yet when they leave the process falls over, and the team has to start again. Or worse, they won’t relinquish those skills because it grants them power or comfort over the rest of the team. Whether through lack of education or fear, leaders at any level throughout the organisation must make their roles autonomous. Influence these people to relinquish their knowledge and let other team member’s bath in the talent they have to offer.
Ben Gates said “if there’s something wrong, those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action” (National Treasure…great movie). Leadership starts at the top and the leadership team is where the change from fear to courage must flow. If you’re not surrounded by quality leaders then you have two options:-
1. Identify ‘who’ you need and get them on board, and don’t be constrained by conventional thinking with your choices. Sometimes the right leaders are standing in front of you looking like “B.A.” Baracus;
2. Spend the time to develop your leadership team to the level they need to be. Behaviour drives Attitude so be persistent.
Bear in mind though that you need to create that urgency, and it may be that some hard decisions are made about the members of the leadership team; if that motivation is being hindered.
Choose Wisely Grasshopper
Once you’ve got the leadership team assembled, choose what disciplines will reduce fear in your organisation. There are many out there and the leadership team must decide which disciplines will do right by the business. These are four ideals that meld with our business:-
Turn the Tree Upside-Down
Autocratic management is the traditional form of an organisations structure. Boss at the top, implementing rules and policy down the chain to the workers…“what I say goes.” To break this down we must first understand four elements of organisational structure:-
Span of Control looks at the number of direct reports to each level of the hierarchy.
Centralisation is the formal decision-making which is normally held with a few people.
Formalisation is how much an organisation standardises its behaviours through rules and policies.
Departmentalisation specifies how people are grouped together in the organisation.
Instead of accepting the narrow, autocratic train of thought, rearrange the tree and put those with the passion and creativity into decision-making roles. The advantages of this new ideas flow are:-
- The Span of Control spreads out as more team members move up the decision-making chain;
- The decisions are made by a larger group of the team and the team becomes more autonomous;
- The ‘new’ leaders have the advantage of ‘coming from the floor’ so already have the trust of the workers and there is easier buy in from workers;
- They bring with them experience and a perspective that many managers don’t have;
- They have the opportunity to experience leadership and in the process the leadership team can gain a perspective from the floor staff;
- Roles can be shared so task are not reliant on any one individual;
- The number communication filters can be reduced to make for clearer understanding;
- More time for the leadership team to focus on strategy rather than doing.
Another advantage is that by aligning the leadership team as ‘peers’ amongst the group they can influence by ‘enquiry’ rather than ‘command.’
Break Through Departmentalisation
Teams operating in buckets cringe at thought of outsiders intruding into their territory and can become defensive. The ‘us and them’ attitude is prevalent in all organisations, so by lowering this invisible barrier we can:-
- Engage ‘outsiders’ of the team as they are given a privilege not presented before;
- Open the doors up to new ideas and different perspectives;
- Give stakeholders a sense of ownership in the organisation;
- Shared skills and knowledge that would have been shielded in personal buckets;
- A larger team involved in the mission, vision and direction of the organisation;
- An increase of identification-based trust as different people work within a framework of mutual understanding and emotional bonding;
- More time for the leadership team to focus on strategy rather than doing (again).
Teach Me Obi-Wan
Organisations do well to educate and train staff to better the business or their people, but there is very little training in passing on knowledge or even resources provided to do this. The following models explain why there could be a fear to relinquish, and ideas of how to break through this barrier:-
- Employment – As businesses become more efficient, downsizing and dispersion is the result. If this fear restrains staff from entrusting their skills, redefine their role as a ‘mentor’ and ease their fears by mapping out their future in the organisation. Resistance to change is the fear of the unknown and an inability to adjust to an ever changing environment.
- Intellectual Capital – Intellectual capital is built from hard work and experience and some may feel that it is theirs by this right. Policies or procedures that require this knowledge to be shared will start to break down this idea of entitlement. Standard Operating Procedures are an example of retaining this information and sharing it with the wider group.
- Middle Management – The proverbial ‘meat in the sandwich’ between management and worker. An unwillingness to relinquish knowledge can be one of two things (1) they are happy in their current role and don’t want to move on or (2) they want to move up the ladder so they will keep as much as possible to themselves. The only people who can influence the change in their assumptions are their senior managers. It is his or her responsibility to guide these people in a direction that is best for the business, and best for their development.
- Business Growth – With experience comes age, and if there is fear within the organisation, then cautiousness will comfort this generation. But cautiousness in a fast-paced economy will leave an organisation behind, decision making still needs to be bold and risks need to be taken. Buddy-training is an example of how this knowledge can extracted. Support the aging demographic, it is perhaps one of New Zealand’s biggest impacts to the future economy. An aging population and lack of ‘new blood’ is a warning sign that succession planning needs to be BAU (Business As Usual).
Lobster in a Pot
Put a lobster in a pot and heat it up, it will remain there until cooked. Put a lobster in a pot of boiling water and it’ll jump out. Implement these changes incorrectly and watch the uprising begin. Change is hard for most (managers and workers alike), and is much harder and painful if you don’t get it right the first time. This doesn’t mean you have to move slowly, just wisely.
Time and Communication
Jim Collins talks of “first who, then what” in his book Good to Great. Finding the right people, then creating the ‘what’ takes time. And people in an organisation can be impatient, which can lead to unrest and disengagement of staff. Management must communicate regularly on the progress of whatever plans they may be implementing. The natives will get restless if they keep asking about ‘next steps’ and there is no response.
Network through the organisation and get perspectives for the plan you want to put in place. Different people have different views, but they should all align to a common company objective. Learn about organisational behaviour and pick out which aspects you want to use in your business plan. Learn about good business planning because, like a map, if it’s wrong, it’ll send you off the wrong direction.
My Partners in Kryme, Tara and Ambrose.
The Book of Walls.
All those great writers and workmates who knew a hell of a lot more than I did and showed me the yellow brick road.
The endless hours in front of movies.