Bill Cosby made a great presentation years ago at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Conference in San Diego. he told the story of:
… two geniuses and two human resources professionals at the gates of heaven, all trying to get in. The gatekeeper said there was a simple way to gain entry: just give God a question that he couldn’t answer. If you could stump him, you got in.
The Geniuses huddled and talked back and forth for a while, but no matter how hard they tried to ask questions, God always had the answer.
Those two human resources people, on the other hand, huddled for just a moment, scribbled down a single question and handed it to the gatekeeper.
He reappeared a few minutes later and said they had done well and that God was stumped, so they could enter Heaven when they liked.
The geniuses were puzzled. How? What, they asked the gatekeeper, could those two HR people have possibly been able to ask God that he couldn’t answer?
It was simple, the gatekeeper said: “They asked God when the company they had been working for was going to get its shit together.”
The joke was well received because of the reality: Businesses really don’t have it together!
The workforce and staff know it to be true and pretty uniform across organizations. These same people, as customers, undoubtedly feel it when interacting.
But top managements just don’t seem to be aware that they do not really know what is happening or if they have the right operational policies and procedures in place.
As the author John LeCarre, once wrote,
“A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”
Jim Collins, author of management books as Good to Great and Built to Last, showed that a very typical problem is that “the CEO has already made a decision, and that view of “leadership” was to get people to participate so that they feel good about the decision already made.” This is a really poor way to manage because, “you’re ignoring people who might know a lot that would be useful in making the decision.”
Collins added: “You’re accepting the idea that because you’re in the CEO seat, you somehow know more or you’re really smarter than everyone else, But what you’re really doing is cutting yourself off from hearing options or ideas that might be better.”
The story and Collins’ research make the same point: Leaders are not fully informed. They know some things but not everything. They tend to look at numbers and receive information that has been filtered a number of times (see how I close this with, “In The Beginning!”). Senior leadership seldom actually deal with customers or customer problems and do not have their hands on the keyboards and phone pads that influence results and touch the business. And talking with the CEO of another company does not make them hands-on, either!
People down in the trenches understand an awful lot more about the business than the executive suite people give them credit for and they have good hands-on feelings about the causes of a lot of problems. They also have a lot of good ideas about how to make the business operate more efficiently and more effectively. While they may not understand the Big Picture and the overall issues, they certainly know a lot about how things actually work in their areas of expertise.
The problem is, the people with their hands on things are generally not asked what they think or about what should be done differently. They are often pushed into competing with other departments rather than collaborating in meaningful ways. Worse, from a motivational and developmental perspective, they are often simply handed down decisions without being given an opportunity to have any meaningful input or change to those ideas – this generates compliance.
Heck, even God would probably understand the issues and opportunities communicated in my favorite quote:
“Nobody ever washes a rental car.”
We totally agree that these are real issues! And this is where our Square Wheels® tools can easily have a huge impact. We provide simple tools for helping managers dramatically improve communications, helping them become better facilitators for motivation and innovation and allowing their people to have a voice and feel ownership. They can use our tools to remove roadblocks, identify issues and generate possible solutions, all the while doing this with the people rather than to them.
A wide variety of workplace statistics point to the dissatisfaction of employees because they perceive that leaders do not care about their ideas for improvement. Many feel little involvement in the decisions that directly affect them and often feel they have no effective way to voice their ideas, opinions and solutions concerning workplace issues or ideas.
For managers, a great way to tap this source of ideas is to facilitate a session using Square Wheels® illustrations. These illustrations provide a “safe” non-threatening format for people to openly discuss issues and ideas and work on implementation.
Square Wheels One is an illustration that sets up the metaphor of the wagon moving along on Square Wheels with Round Wheels in the wagon.
The Manager begins the session by showing the cartoon and stating that this is how most organizations seem to work. At this point, he asks the participants (who are ideally seated at round tables with 5 to 6 people per table), to talk among themselves about how they see their organization in the illustration.
After 5 minutes, ask for reactions from each table and write them on an easel pad, preferably containing the illustration. Leaders need to get their people involved and engaged. And the leaders also need to be active participants in the improvement process itself — they must clearly show their support for the show to go on…
Lastly, all of this discussion reminds me of a classic, which I have reproduced for your enjoyment:
In the Beginning was The Vision
And then came the Assumptions
But the Assumptions were without Form
And the Vision was without substance.
And Darkness was upon the faces of the Workers
As they Spoke amongst themselves, saying:
“It is a Crock of Shit, and it Stinketh, badly.”
So the Workers went to Supervisors and sayeth unto them:
“It is a Pail of Dung, and none may abide the Odor thereof.”
And Supervisors went to Managers, and sayeth unto them:
“It is a Container of Excrement, and it is
so very Strong that none may abide it.”
And Managers went to Directors and sayeth unto them:
“It is a vessel of Fertilizer, and none may abide its Strength.”
And Directors went to Vice Presidents and sayeth:
“It contains that which aids plant Growth, and it is very Strong.”
And Vice Presidents went to Executives and sayeth unto them:
“It promoteth Growth, and it is very very Powerful.”
And Executives went to the President, and sayeth unto him:
“This powerful Vision will actively promote Growth and Efficiency
of our departments and our company overall.”
And the President looked upon the Vision and saw that it was good.
Thus the Vision became The Reality.
Yeah, the reality is that information is quite filtered as it rolls up the organization, so do what you can to get more hands on (so to speak!).
See more thoughts on thinking and decision-making at this other popular blog of ours:
and find out more about our tools for engagement by clicking the image-link below:
For the FUN of It, be involved and engaged!
Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.