A number of years ago I met with several leaders to determine a strategy for improving the performance of their operations. The discussion started with the high-level goals of the organization and the general direction of the team. As the conversation continued, the topics became very granular, with even minute process details being dictated by the senior leader in the room. He had a very specific plan for the operation that he wanted to see implemented.
After discussing the details of the new process, the topic of conversation turned to rolling the changes out to the staff. As a team, we all agreed that getting staff input would be a valuable part of the improvement process. There was less agreement on what that staff input should look like.
The senior leader described a series of meetings with front line staff in which it was the job of the area leader to present the new process and ask for staff input. He stressed that the point of the meetings was to make sure the staff “feel involved” in the process. He wanted their buy-in, while still making sure it was his process that was implemented.
My heart sank at this. He missed the point. Having control of the situation was more important to him than involving the staff in a genuine way.
I recently spoke with a friend about an issue that his organization was facing that was causing him significant frustration. They had experienced an equipment failure that caused significant downtime for their production line. In response, the leadership team demanded that all the similar parts on the line be replaced, regardless of condition.
My friend indicated that this particular part was one that could easily be inspected for wear and only be replaced if necessary. They did not typically fail without warning. If all the parts had been inspected instead of replaced, the organization could have saved the cost of the parts and weeks of work.
Unfortunately, the decision-makers were not aware of this possibility. None of the mechanics who knew the equipment shared this information. They knew it was a costly decision, but no one spoke up, not even my friend. Why?
I’m not really much of a dancer. So, when I was at a wedding recently, I spent much of the reception doing one of my favorite activities: observing.
It was very interesting to see the ebb and flow of people and energy on the dance floor as the songs changed. At times, just a few people would be on the floor, dancing with slightly disinterested expressions, and at other times excited dancers would come running from across the room squealing “That’s my song!”.
The significant difference in emotions between these two situations caught my attention.
I love watching kids interact with the world. They have a wonderful ability to treat even the most mundane things as fantastic discoveries. My youngest daughter can always get me to smile with the way she lights up when she learns something new. Her excitement is infectious as she announces to the room in a very loud voice what she has observed.
It doesn’t matter if it is playing with sticks in the mud, having a pretend picnic, or challenging themselves on the playground, kids are constantly interacting with their environment in novel ways. They test ideas and ask questions about the world and how it works. Driven by their curiosity, this is how they grow and learn.
“Children astound me with their inquisitive minds. The world is wide and mysterious to them, and as they piece together the puzzle of life, they ask ‘Why?’ ceaselessly.” – John C. Maxwell
Adults and organizations are no different.
Several years ago, two independent organizations set off on journeys to transform their cultures. Both organizations wanted to move from environments that valued protecting the status quo and were resistant to change to cultures in which change was rapid, structured, and pervasive.
As both organizations embarked from this common starting point, their paths began to diverge. In one organization, the philosophy began to take root, the tools were used consistently throughout the organization, and the culture continued to mature. Employees at all levels of the organization bought into the new ideas and their teams began to thrive.
In the second organization, changes in the culture were much less widespread. Individual pockets embraced the new ideas, but the results were not sustained. Years after their journey began, the culture was not significantly different from where it started.
So, what was the difference?