When companies struggle, whether because of a bad economy, poor decisions, or other factors, top management’s reaction is often to become tight-lipped about the turbulent situation.
Employees are shut out from strategy discussions, and any ideas they might have for fixing the problem go unheard.
But in many if not most cases, such secretiveness is the wrong approach and can even make things worse.
For organizations with tens of thousands of employees, it might make sense to limit who participates in strategy. But for smaller organizations, where every person contributes to a thriving culture and facilitates effective operations, there’s a lot of value in involving everyone.
As my book title suggests, I call this all-inclusive way of dealing with things “uncomfortable inclusion.” I put this philosophy into action when I came to the Nevada Donor Network in 2012 at a time when the organization was dysfunctional and on the verge of losing its membership in the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network/United Network for Organ Sharing. That would have shut down the organization for good. Over time, with a few fits and starts along the way, the organization rose from floundering to soaring as a current world leader in the industry.
I acknowledge that uncomfortable inclusion is an approach that can be messy and difficult, but I believe that involving the entire organization in strategy and problem solving can reinforce synergy, cooperation, and unity while cultivating better ideas and innovation. And that’s true whether uncomfortable inclusion is put into action at a failing company, or simply activated at a place where leaders believe their teams and organization could be performing better.
It is critical to include everyone because ultimately the frontline staff knows best what their environment is going to look like tomorrow and likely a few years down the line, and they are best positioned to be innovators. Why wouldn’t we have them as part of the planning process?
Some of the traits needed to embrace this inclusion approach include:
• Transparent. This one may be especially important because Gallup reports that millennials especially say they want leaders who are open and transparent. Uncomfortable inclusion means being transparent to the point of discomfort If it is not uncomfortable, you are not being inclusive enough. When you’re transparent with team members and include them in decision-making, you create a network of stakeholders who participate even in small decisions. When it comes time to make more impactful decisions, a leader can tap into that banked brain trust to make the best decision possible based on feedback from a proven set of deciders.
• Accountable. People within an organization need to be accountable for their actions and to each other. I talk about how we’re serious about our values, and we hold people accountable. It isn’t enough to be technically competent. Each member of our organization, regardless of title, role, or results, must adhere to our values. We maintain our commitment to quality and excellence, and we are supremely, publicly accountable when we fail.
• Committed. Adopting a more inclusive approach requires commitment, possibly a commitment to changing the organization’s very culture. But the goal may be more attainable than it first seems. Achieving success in a seemingly hopeless situation requires hard work and a committed mindset, but it does not require the reinvention of the wheel. It does not even require luck. All it requires is willingness and a mind open to learning and implementing actions that can facilitate transformative success.
Make no mistake, doing this is messy and hard. It might seem unnecessarily difficult, complicated, and yes, uncomfortable. But keep chipping away and remember this: Success is achievable, even from the bleakest and most dysfunctional starting points.
Joe Ferreira (www.joeferreira.com), author of “Uncomfortable Inclusion: How to Build a Culture of High Performance in Life and Work,” is CEO and president of the Nevada Donor Network. Ferreira speaks and consults worldwide about establishing and improving organ donation and transplantation systems he’s helped pioneer in the United States.