Charlene Li, CEO of Altimeter Group and author of the New York Times bestseller “Open Leadership,” discusses the need for innovation and quick decision-making in today’s business. Charlene Li explains that it’s less about control and more about empowerment: enabling employees to acquire the information they need, in order to make their own decisions.
According to Gallup, only 13% of people are actively engaged in their work. Most organizations have a hierarchical structure to create efficiency and scale. In a modern digitally connected world, efficiency paves the way against the need to innovate, for change, and for speed.
Employees at the bottom of the hierarchy who can make good decisions can be allowed to do so by having non-hierarchical discussions throughout the organisations so that they gather the information to make that decision.
A restaurant chain, Red Robin, has a digitally savvy employee base. 87% of them are millennials. They recently introduced a new menu item called the “Big Out Style Burger,” and one of the things they did was a customer service survey to gather customer feedback. They asked people for their feedback. Later, they posted that feedback on the company’s internal social network, and it wasn’t all good. Executives quickly realised that they have to make a change and they tapped those employees for suggestions on what to do. The result: employee’s suggestion went to the test kitchen at headquarters and then back into the stores in less than 30 days. Prior to this it would normally have taken 6 to 12 months. That’s when they realised that employee engagement is not just talking with other employees. It was really about employees being heard and their voices making a difference.
However, there is a bit of a problem. Managers are set between those executives and the front lines. Middle managers resist change in their organisation because they feel they are losing control. Middle managers are the obstacles to change, but they are the ones who can give solutions.
After a lot of research and thinking, Charlene Li suggests three ways to address this problem.
1. Creating culture of sharing:
We have been taught that we must hold onto information in order to be successful, yet this is not the case with network organizations. Managers have a crucial role in facilitating organisational transformation. They increase the speed and spread the information throughout the organization. Charlene Li, further cited an example of a radical act of transparency. The USS Nimitz, a US Navy aircraft carrier, once invited 16 bloggers to spend 24 hours on board, and Charlene Li was one of them. The captain allowed them to discuss anything with anyone at any time. He knew that he couldn’t control what the sailors would say to each other, but he had the confidence in what they should discuss and what they should keep to themselves. This is because they had a sharing culture in place. They practised this every day because they knew that their lives and missions depended on the ability for somebody to speak up at the right time.
How many of you would feel comfortable allowing someone to enter your organisation and walk around unaccompanied for even one hour? Creating a strong culture of sharing in your workplace will make you feel confident and comfortable that this will be fine, said Charlene Li.
2. Practice Followership:
The size and quality of the network today determines how much power and influence you have and not your title. When people share with each other, they develop relationships. One of the managers regularly posted video updates about a project she was working on. She used those updates to engage people throughout the organization. What she was doing was actively building relationships and a network of followers. When it was time to implement that project, she kept those followers as volunteers. People who then champion that project in its implementation in their own departments. Practicing leadership in the workplace will not only help you retain power, but it will also influence employees and will help you become a more effective leader.
3. Create Meaningful Decisions:
How to create a network to build meaningful decisions?
Get decision makers involved. One CEO did this by asking employees throughout the organisation to give suggestions on what processes and technologies the company should eliminate. He conducted this on the company’s internal collaboration platform, and within a minute, he received 800 suggestions. The CEO then began prioritising which one should be removed, again with the inputs from those employees. Using networks to make critical decisions is the only way to gain interactions.
These three strategies will assist leaders in leading in the digital era, but transforming organizations through sharing, followership, and networking does not happen quickly. Power and influence come from being in control. This is not an easy idea because it requires lots of patience. Leaders need to empower and engage their employees by letting go and trusting that they will do the right thing. This is the only way for a leader to bring their enthusiasm, energy, and creativity to the table.
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