Why it's important to consult people from the grass roots up when you're growing a business.
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The best leaders surround themselves with people more expert than themselves in certain areas so they can make the most informed decisions, but they tend to enlist leaders of each functional area who may know their subject areas well but are not the real experts in what it’s like to work for your organisation.
They may delegate and deploy, but they don’t actually do the day-to-day work which is the foundation of your business. Constantly tapping into the same brains and mindsets tends to limit the scope of creative thinking, focusing on people with their own ‘baggage’ and, indeed, personal agendas.
If you want your business to fly, you need to engage the people who work in that business day to day and see its ups, downs, positives and negatives – the people who often feel that they have little or no voice but are subject to the whims, edicts and ministrations of their senior executives.
One big causes of failure when a business undergoes change is that those most affected by the change are consulted too little, too late or not at all.
In this short article, we’ll explore three techniques which can be used to engage large groups of people, working simultaneously to produce creative solutions to business problems and, because they are engaged in the process, they are motivated to make the changes work.
One such technique, World Café, was used by 10,000 simultaneously, working in 30 cities across Israel. This may seem a little ambitious at first, but it shows how scalable these methods are.
Force field analysis
Force field analysis is a brainstorming technique, which explores the forces which help and hinder change. It’s a wonderful tool to use when you are starting to plan a major change and want people’s buy-in from the outset.
Bring together all those who may be affected by a proposed change in your business and explain at a high level what you are proposing to do.
What promotes growth, and what holds it back?
Show them the force-field analysis chart: a flipchart with a brief description of the proposed change at the top, then two columns, headed ‘Helpers’ and ‘Barriers’.
Explain that you will post blank charts around the workplace and, over the next couple of weeks, if anyone has an idea of what might help or hinder the proposed change, no matter how trivial it may seem, they should write it in the appropriate column.
Two weeks later, collect the charts and bring everyone back together. Thank them for their efforts, and talk through each of the barriers and helpers.
Ask them to clarify anything which is not immediately obvious, and then ask them to allocate ‘weights’ to each idea – big, medium or small.
Use a green marker pen and draw an arrow under each helper – a long arrow for a big helper, a medium arrow for a medium helper and a short arrow for a small helper. Do the same with a red marker pen for each of the barriers.
Ask them how to capitalise on each helper and reduce or eliminate each barrier. Effectively they will write the change plan for you, and they cannot now claim that you didn’t consult them, because you brought them into the process at the outset.
The force field analysis has another benefit: you don’t have to get people to buy into the idea of the change because, by adding helpers and barriers to each chart, they have already accepted that it will happen.
Set up a large workspace with as many tables as need in café/cabaret style. Prove paper and pens. Each table has a designated ‘host’.
The event host welcomes everyone, gives the context for the issue(s) to be explored and describes the process:
Pose a question, related to the main topic of discussion.
Table groups discuss the question for 15-20 minutes and the table host takes notes of the ideas generated, then at a given signal, groups disperse randomly to other tables (rather than as the same group).
The table host summarises the thoughts of the last group.
The event host repeats the original question or poses another related question to further develop the theme. The new table groups discuss the question and the table hosts take notes.
You may choose to have a third round, following the same principles.
Table hosts summarise the key ideas coming from their groups, one idea per large sticky note or piece of paper, and pool them, clustering them according to themes on a wall or large notice board.
The event host now facilitates a discussion around the key themes, helping the group to translate the ideas into action.
This method allows a large group to create its own agenda.
A large group is convened and sits in a circle.
Anyone with an idea they wish to discuss goes to the centre of the circle and announces it, writes it down and places it on an ‘agenda wall’, stating where and what time the will convene a discussion about it.
The agenda wall should be prepared in advance, listing time slots and breakout locations.
At the stated times, idea owners facilitate a discussion with whoever chooses to join them.
Anyone can join any group and leave at any point, when they feel that they have nothing more to contribute.
Someone in each group records ideas which are later placed on a ‘news wall’. As people drift in and out of discussions, so the changing dynamics generate great ideas.
After a given time, everyone reconvenes in the circle and participants share ideas, insights and agreed actions arising from their discussions.
The author, David Cotton, is a freelance business trainer and author of The Smart Solution Book (FT Pearson 2016), the most comprehensive collection of business problem-solving and decision-making techniques available.