Aug 23, 2017
Common Sense Baby Is Not Common
As the leader we have to work on the presumption that people know what they are doing. It is impossible to micro manage every single person, every moment of the day. By the way, who would want to do that anyway? The issues arise when things deviate from the track we think they are on or expect that they are on. We find that a process has been finessed, but we don’t like the change. We find that some elements have been dropped completely, but we only find this out by accident or substantially after the fact. We are not happy in either case.
Why does this happen? Training can cover the basics, but there is always a wide margin of discretion in carrying out jobs. We need to allow this or the team become asphyxiated by the confines of the narrowly defined tasks we have set for them. We all own the world we help to create, so we need to allow people to be creative, if we want them to take ownership of their jobs. It is when things start to stray that we run into trouble. There is a margin allowed for doing things differently, but when the red line gets crossed, we get cross.
Another seed of discomfort is when systems are changed, but you don’t know that. There might be a really great reason or a very bad reason for this to happen, but the scary part is not knowing the change has been made in the first place. Do we have to know about every single thing our staff are changing? Obviously no, so where is the line in the sand to be drawn here?
This is tricky and there are no genius answers really. We need to remind our team that they are free to innovate, to be creative, to look for every kaizen opportunity. We also need to have them tell us if they make a significant change. Okay, so how do we define “significant”? This is a very grey area and this still won’t capture everything we need to know about, but it is better than having no clue at all as to what is going on.
Our workplace is usually divided into specialty functions like sales, marketing, operations etc. Cross functional innovation is good, if both groups know about it and contribute. Problems start to arise when the changes are made in isolation and in secret. Not secret in the sense that anyone is trying to fool others, but secret in the sense that affected groups are not told what is going to happen. It just happens and you find out later – usually at the worst possible time.
The changes can also reflect an uninformed view of how things work in reality. Not having in depth detail on the sales function, for example, can result in the operations team making some decisions which negatively impact the sale effort. IT may make changes that are completely rational from a geeky IT point of view, but which create results for other parts of the business which are not helpful. Undoing things always takes time and money and results in lost productivity.
What can we do about these challenges? Having functional heads keep an eye for any negative changes, is a delegation task that must be done. The leader cannot get across that degree of detail. Educating the whole team about how the whole fits together is a good practice. We assume everyone gets it, but that is wishfull thinking. In team meetings, it is important that all sections report changes that will impact other parts of the business. Formalise this into the meeting agenda so that it never gets missed.
When things do go off the rails, educate those involved about the big picture, so that it won’t happen again. No one is trying to destroy the business, so intentions are honourable, but the communication piece can be missing. Encourage staff to think about the ramifications of changes they may want to make and have them inform those likely to be affected before the changes are made. Surprisingly, even in small offices, this simple activity fails to happen because everyone is so time harassed doing multiple tasks at light speed.
Japan has it horenso ( 報連相) mantra to fall back on when in doubt. Ho for hokoku or report, ren for renraku or contact and so for sodan or consult. This is a useful construct to reduce problems before they occur, especially for junior staff – report/contact/consult.
Finally, don’t blow your top! Being the last to know about bad news is the lot of the boss. That is bad enough, but finding out randomly about bad news, that only you understand is bad news, is really, really irritating. The instant boss reaction to this type of thing is usually explosive.
We have to remember the importance of encouraging everyone to innovate. The corresponding increase in risk of failure goes hand in glove with that effort. We have to remember to be using our communication and people skills, so that we don’t kill team motivation. Bite your tongue when things are revealed and start thinking of a positive way of encouraging everyone involved, as you correct the situation. If we can do this, we will be building the culture of creativity we want and over time we will diminish the outbursts of common sense collapse.
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About The Author
Dr. Greg Story: President, Dale Carnegie Training Japan
In the course of his career Dr. Greg Story has moved from the academic world, to consulting, investments, trade representation, international diplomacy, retail banking and people development. Growing up in Brisbane, Australia he never imagined he would have a Ph.D. in Japanese decision-making and become a 30 year veteran of Japan.
A committed lifelong learner, through his published articles in the American, British and European Chamber journals, his videos and podcasts “THE Leadership Japan Series”, "THE Sales Japan series", THE Presentations Japan Series", he is a thought leader in the four critical areas for business people: leadership, communication, sales and presentations. Dr. Story is a popular keynote speaker, executive coach and trainer.
Since 1971, he has been a disciple of traditional Shitoryu Karate and is currently a 6th Dan. Bunbu Ryodo (文武両道-both pen & sword) is his mantra and he applies martial art philosophies and strategies to business.