DOES YOUR STRATEGY INVOLVE YOUR PEOPLE OR ARE YOU SIMPLY TREATNG YOUR PEOPLE LIKE COGS IN A GEARBOX?
I recently read an article where a senior manager likened his job and the role of strategy as the big wheel in the gearbox. He turned, and his whole organisation turned with him. His strategy was deciding when to turn, how quickly and how much. He highlighted the importance of each cog in the gearbox and argued that this was analogous to every employee in his business and their importance.
I would argue that in a gearbox, this is precisely what is required. After all, you don’t want every gear doing its own thing as and when it chooses to do so. But what if the gears could alter their gear ratios depending upon the circumstances. What if they knew they were in a race and knew that a greater ratio would provide greater acceleration etc., and could alter their output accordingly. What if some of the gears loved racing and loved being changed often and aggressively and responded quickly and efficiently.
What an amazing gearbox that would be! But that technology doesn’t exist in gearboxes; they are systems that merely do as they are told with just one simple purpose in life. They don’t know where they are going, what is required of them, what conditions the car is operating in, and they can’t predict changes that would be required as the driving situation changes. They just carry on doing the same thing day in day out.
The output is known, predictable, and unchanging.
But humans are not like gears. Humans are thinking, focussed, motivated, and performance-seeking animals that can adapt to circumstances and alter their working ways. They can enjoy or dislike specific tasks and have the capacity to plan, gauge possibilities, read other humans and situations, and make rational decisions.
So, maintaining the analogy, let’s assume we replace the gearbox with a business and replace the cogs with people. We now can alter the output to meet the circumstances, adjust and react to situations, and have the capacity to change and be unpredictable.
All the characteristics of a successful business.
But to achieve this excellence, a business leader needs to treat their people as humans, not cogs in a gearbox. Suppose you treat your people like cogs by telling them what to do, when to do it, and by how much you monitor them constantly. In that case, you will fail to realise the benefits they can bring to you, and you will drive a predictable, difficult to change, and reactive organisation.
However, if you treat people like people, involve them in your strategy, and let them know the purpose of the business and their role within it, you will quickly realise the benefits it brings. Your people will understand the direction the business is heading in and why. This is what Daniel Pink refers to as purpose, one of the three key human motivations.
All people, irrespective of cultural backgrounds, are motivated by purpose. This is a universal trait that we all need. If individuals understand their role and why they are doing what they are doing, the work output will increase in quality and quantity. Moreover, the individuals will want to help, want change initiatives to succeed, and provide a huge benefit to your organisation.
In addition to the motivation benefits of involving your people in the strategic process, you will also understand what the job entails because you involve these individuals who do the job day in and day out. I have worked with many business leaders who introduce a strategy only to watch the workforce look on in abject misery because they know it won’t work! All credibility has gone, the project is doomed to failure because the workforce doesn’t support it, and the people will do exactly what is asked of them, they won’t think about it, they won’t problem solve, and they won’t look ahead for impending problems.
The secret to a successful strategy is to obtain knowledge from all sources. Still, you must start with the easiest, the most knowledgeable, and the people that could have a more vested interest in your success than anyone else. And that is your people.
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