Just had to go walk 4.3 miles to pick up my car — semi-rough evening last night with the wife — and in the process, I walked through a 5K (making me feel like a total wreck), walked through a giant couples outing to an Arts Fair (ditto), and then drove to Kroger because I needed dishwasher pacs (if this isn’t a picture of life in your 30s, I’m not sure what is). Got home and decided to peruse Fast Company; came across this article about “starting organic conversations” — admittedly an interest of mine, because it can often seem like every conversation is basically 92 percent small talk — and read it. Once I read it, I put my head down and silently wept for a bit. It’s pretty much all buzzwords. Take this section on 7 strategies to use to foster conversations that lead to innovation in your org:
- Innovation Days––Physical or virtual events where employees come up with ideas and celebrate new initiatives.
- Contests––Individual or teams of employees pitch ideas, often after working with management coaches, to compete for prizes.
- Challenges––Similar to competitions, but more specifically focused on a problem or issue posed by management.
- Platforms––Intranets where employees and management discuss issues, post ideas, or ask for collaboration and feedback.
- Strategy reviews––A wide range of employees are brought into the process of reviewing and contributing to annual and quarterly strategic plans.
- T-shaped conversations––Senior managers meet with business unit managers to create cross-functional teams sharing ideas about broad strategic goals and implementation.
- Chaordic conversations––Employees build on ideas or suggestions from clients or external communities and then bring them through the hierarchy.
Yea. All that stuff is kinda cool on face, but most employees wouldn’t want to do it. Remember: there are about 8 billion people on the planet. Give or take, 23 percent of them have a full-time job. There’s maybe 1,000-5,000 “thought leaders” out there about work and leadership and management and all that, right? That means there are literally millions of people who could give two shits about any of this, and just want to do their work, get rewarded, and go home. Not everyone understands concepts like “employee engagement.” Most people hear “future of work” and think, “Yea, tomorrow. Same as today…” People are always told to collaborate with others to create great new ideas, but most people don’t even want to collaborate. Silos and all that; you know how it is.
There is one interesting section in this article that I think represents the crux of a lot of problems that rank-and-file workers feel in today’s world:
For all the time leaders spend crafting and talking about their visions, the time they spend listening might be key to cultural change.
This is a major, and all-too-common, problem. What happens a lot is that leaders/senior management come up with an idea — often in a vacuum or amongst themselves, right? — and they spend hours meeting on the idea, crafting the idea, bringing in consultants to evaluate the idea, etc, etc. Literally hours of time, and if you’re tracking their salaries down to the minute, it’s a ton of money being dedicated to the fostering of new concepts. OK, so then the new concept rolls out, right?
And what happens?
Oftentimes, leaders just assume that everyone is on board — because, you know, they’re the leaders. So they assign some weak-ass analytic metric to it, track it for 4 months at most, and then it’s on to the next big idea and meeting about that. In 16 months, someone will bring up the first idea and some COO will say, “Wait, what?”
You know the one major thing absent from this cycle?
Listening is an extremely powerful concept. In fact, people tend to gravitate towards those who they feel listen to them better. It’s like, um, a core element of humanity in many ways.
And yet it’s so rare in the business world, especially when talking about how “the top” interacts with “the rank-and-file.” Mostly those are messages pushed down and you will internalize this, as opposed to “OK, we crafted this. Go with it for 2 weeks, then tell us what’s good and bad about it.”
Listening. Embrace it. Again, a soft skill … but one that matters. Kinda like “respecting your employees.”