One of my real jobs is running a medical device component manufacturer with a few hundred employees. A fun job in a thankfully still-growing industry. When I started a few years ago the culture was one of top-down decision-making… really top down. In fact, pretty much every decision was made at the very top, and no one else, even senior managers, decided anything.
That had to change in order for lean manufacturing have the slightest prayer, so I slowly began to expect people at all levels to stand on their own two feet. I knew that we had a group of very talented people who were fully capable of making decisions, and I also knew that there were very few decisions of such significance that we couldn't recover from one that was poorly made.
It worked. With rare exception the group stepped up to the plate, and along the way the overall leadership competence of both managers and individuals increased dramatically. Quite honestly I feel like a proud papa. We've made some incredible changes, created excellence in many areas, and mutually raised the bar. The exciting part is that it continues to accelerate, and part of my job has become the "throttle" so we don't get ahead of ourselves. I have become aware that there is an optimum rate of change, not too fast that it collapses like a house of cards and not too slow that it withers. Building a solid solid foundation is critical.
One side effect of our invigorated leadership is that we have become very good at discussing issues. Perhaps too good. We passionately point out problems, opportunities, and new ways of doing things. We debate long and hard. We're master debaters. Well, maybe I should rephrase that. The debate sometimes slows down decisions, and we need to work on that.
I didn't realize how much this passioned debating had become part of our culture until the other week. We recently hired a top notch manager who is creating dramatic change in his organization and really taking the overall company to a whole new level. We're all thrilled with what he's doing. Then I receive an email from him worried about all the "ruffled feathers" he's creating and wondering if he truly fits in. I was completely blind-sided. Where the heck did this come from?
Then it hit me. He would suggest some improvement, and immediately a whole bunch of people would reply with "how about this other way" or even more directly, "I don't like that, but this other way might work." That's how we operate. It can require a thick skin, and I consider it a positive when difficult conversations are out in the open instead of fermenting in a hidden cranny. In our environment we would eventually sort out the various ideas through vigorous debate, and in the end we'd implement an improvement.
But think about it from an outsider's perspective, even one with thick skin and years of leadership experience creating obvious competency. A bunch of people always second-guessing ideas? I can completely understand why it would appear to be "ruffled feathers." After a bunch of explaining, the situation has calmed down and I hope he engages us as much as we perhaps overly-engaged him. We need to be challenged in order to improve, and outsiders bring a fresh perspective that can add fresh challenge.
It can be tough, especially if you've been entrenched in it a while, but be aware of the culture you've created or that has evolved. Even if it is positive, how is it perceived by a newcomer?
Louis English says
New employees are the most valuable resource you have in learning about your current culture(the success rules of the organization). When a new person arrives they clearly see what is valued and not valued by the the people who are making up the culture(s) everyday and the leadership reinforcing it.
Lou English PhD.
Dike Drummond says
The only way your new manager/leader would be worried about “ruffled feathers” is if they were used to working within the “Old” top-down system you describe at the top of your post.
In a collaborative environment … one where the leader understands that the best decisions are made with the MOST input … your initial ideas are springboards for the input of others. No feathers ruffled … just an opportunity for everyone to air their views.
People beneath the top of org chart are not interested in being “Right” they are interested in being HEARD. You would really see some ruffled feathers if their input was not sought out … even more so if their input was ignored or “diss-ed”
It seems to me that this is not a case of “thickening” anyone’s skin so much as opening the leader’s pores to the input of the folks who are actually doing the work.
My two cents
david foster says
Someone once defined a *good* business organization as “a wise old coachman using the reins to guide a group of strong, enthusiastic horses,” and a *bad* business organization as “an angry bear lashing forward a group of frightened ponies.”