Wednesday, March 26, 2008
A business organization is no democracy. It is ruled by the shareholders and their representatives, and is managed by a small group elected for that purpose. The managers are those to make decisions and not "the people".
Winston Churchill said once that "democracy is the worst way for ruling, expect for all other ways that were already experienced". As other things said by him, this is a wise sentence. Even though democracy is not a good way to rule (a country), other ways are worse.
Usage of the term democracy has expanded and does not serve us only in the political region. We use it in many other cases as a way to speak of taking decisions based on the majority.
Many times we ask ourselves why don't we succeed in building the same atmosphere of will and passion in the organization as people have for home, friends, sports and other topic outside the office. The issue has many perspectives. Let us look, for example, on Blogging. We see people Blogging and collaborating outside work, much more than in. I am cautious. This is not an issue of white and black. People do not suffer in work. It is not a situation, I hope, in most organizations that people do not like the place in which they work. Yet, there are differences between the office and outside it, and there place for improvement. The more we are a place that our employees want to come to every morning, the more they stay (and that for itself is worth a lot). But more important than that, if people like the place they work in- they perform better.
Enabling people to take decisions indeed helps. We like to be involved; we like to have influence on others. This is reciprocal: the more the organization enables employees to be involved and to influence, the more they give back from themselves.
Yet, let us remember that we are a business; a place with defined business goals. Making decisions based on majority can contradict with shareholders favor. The process of taking decisions, involving many people, takes much more time, than if a small group only is involved.
Many organizations, find therefore, other ways for satisfying their employees, and leave democracy out of the organizations door.
However, it is important to understand, that the benefits of sharing in the process of decision-making, go far beyond involvement and good feelings of employees.
Professionally, it is better to take decisions asking many people. This is the wisdom of the crowds. This term, was coined by James Surowiecki back at 2004. He wrote a book by this name. From the full name of the book "The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations" we can understand the relevance to our topic- democracy of decision-making. Consulting more people- brings better results. We have learned this from Wikipedia, that turned to be the leading Encyclopedia wide world and we can learn this from many experiments that people and organizations have performed comparing the wisdom of experts and the wisdom of crowds. Every time we are surprised again to see that in most cases crowd beets experts.
The bottom line: It is beneficial for organizations to involve employees when taking decisions.
When and how?
In decisions that are related to new ideas for strategic moves;
In decisions related to forecasting market trends and wills;
In organizational decisions related to the people as a group (where there is no conflict in interest between the people, or between them and the organization);
When designing user interfaces of products;
Were brainstorming is needed in order to understand a problem or suggest solutions.
The criteria: Where information is not classified; where quality is essential; where it is worthwhile comparing to resources (time, cost); where our future lies.
I, as the owner and manager of a company, got use to, in the first years of the company, to decide on my own. As time passed, I learned to involve larger groups of people. The sharing may take many formats: sometimes as the first stage, sometimes in consulting on the way, sometimes in openness to changes- after. In some cases, the group is larger, in others, two or three people take part, No one recipe.
The name of the game, as in many other issues is working gradually; of course if wanting to change an existing organization.
The personal indecision is always there: fast versus comprehensive; wisdom of experts versus wisdom of the crowds. We, as managers have to decide- when alone, when with small group, when as democracy.
On the end of the day, we will be those to pay or profit. We will have to be responsible. Responsibility is no democracy. It remains ours.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Knowing to ask is a skill, basic for learning. Without curiosity, without seeking what is missing in an existing product, service, or even situation, it is difficult for us, as workers and as people to advance from the present towards the future.
I wish to focus in this post on the issue of asking, from the perspective of being a manager.
The technique of asking questions can help us as managers, for various needs:
Asking as a tool for control.
Knowledge workers are independent workers. We, as their managers, are not involved in their daily work, and are not always aware of the full picture of the activities they are in-charge of. Furthermore, as I have already written in the past, we understand less than they in part of the topics, they work and expert on. Asking questions can assist control in two ways:
- Asking can assist in emotional matters, as part of understanding how our employees feel as human-beans, and not only as workers. The trivial questions, "what's new?", "how do you feel?" or "what's up?", turned to be of saying "hello", or "good morning". Most people do not answer these questions with care, and even when they do, most people do not listen to what has been said. We, as managers, are responsible for knowing how our employees really feel and to be out for them, especially when it is not a shiny day. Our responsibility as managers is to ask, to mean it when we ask and to listen to the answer.
- Asking can assist in professional matters, as part of understanding where issues stand and, maybe, problems exist. Even if we understand less than our employees, a few innocent questions can point to holes in solutions, where people are not to sure. Over confidence, just as lack of confidence, are sticking out evidence for places where we should probably dig in more. I remember myself, twenty-five years ago, as a math student. The professor was stand near the board, showing us a mathematical proof. One hundred students were sitting silent, trying to catch up with him. Then, he suddenly stopped, thought for a minute or even less, and continued on filling the board. After he finished, I raised my hand, and asked him to explain the line, where he stopped, five minutes ago. He looked at the board for a minute and erased all he has written. I did not mean to harm, but I felt something was wrong, as he passed on this message by his behavior. People tell us in so many ways; we have the task of listening.
Asknig as a tool of guiding and teaching.
The technique of asking questions as a tool for guiding other people, or even advancing on ourselves, is familiar and used for decades. It is a significant element of the reflection process, where we go out (mentally), stand and look at things from outside the situation, ask questions regarding, and understand how to perform better.
There are two main advantages in using the technique of asking questions as a tool for guiding and teaching:
- If we as managers ask our employees questions and leave the answering part to them, we diminish the resistance that can grow in some cases, using other techniques. It is not easy for any of us to absorb criticism, and if the questions are indeed innocent and not dissembling, this technique of asking questions, may turn out to be effective.
- Asking questions open minds. We here give our employees the tools to turn out to be even more professional than they are now. This, after all, is the essence of guiding.
There are many other situations, in which we as managers are to ask: When strategy planning; when planning any future; when selling (whether ideas in to the organization or products and services to our out-of-the-organization customers). Actually, asking may assist in almost every process we carry on.
There were times, when employees would come to ask, and I would answer. Nowadays, I try to hold myself (and believe me, it is not that easy for me) and return with a question: What do you think? What are the alternatives? Why? Of course, this takes more time on the short term, and every one who knows me personally will testify that I never have time, but I try reminding myself that this is the proper way to act, and surely, on the long term, it is less time, not more. I try holding myself. Sometimes, I even succeed.
Before ending this post, some open questions, for further thought:
How much to ask: Asking to much is a burden.
How to ask: Asking wrong is worse than not asking at all. Do not patronize; do not dissemble; do not ask "closed" questions; do not ask to "open" questions (if the target is guiding, some guiding has to take place in the question).
Moreover; to understand, when it is wrong to ask questions. To leave our employees with space. They need it (as we do).
Your opinion would be appreciated.