It has been an observation of mine that people fundamentally want to feel needed. What does that mean, needed? Well, think about when do you feel needed? Is it when someone asks for your opinion? Probably even more powerfully when they implement your ideas. Do you feel more or less needed when you’re listened to and actually heard? My guess is that you, like me, want to be heard and want to have an impact on decisions being made. With that in mind, I have found it surprising throughout my career of investing in and helping finance small companies that most owners do not spend the time mining the bountiful riches of their employees’ minds. Understanding that it is not a process to be taken lightly, as there is no value in it until you are ready to actually listen and implement their good ideas.
“…by failing to tap the strengths of every individual in our company, we were heading toward a dead end by dumbing people down." — Jack Stack, The Great Game of Business: The Only Sensible Way to Run a Company
Ask and the doors to process improvement will open for you. A longtime friend and former colleague used this tool many times throughout his career, as a management consultant and operating partner at a private equity fund, to gain the trust of the people he was sent in to help. He speaks often of the surprise of both middle management and the employees out on the front lines when their new owner comes in and asks how he can make their lives easier. Just picture what a front-line employee would think if you asked that simple question. How nervous would they be to consider sharing that information with you, the person that could easily send them on the hunt for new employment? He never just asked, he asked and intently listened, and then acted on the good ideas. The result was boosted morale and more effective operations, all leading to out sized returns to shareholders.
“Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.” — Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t
Think for a second, how a business that is growing beyond a size where the CEO can have their fingers in all the moving parts, would benefit from the insights of that front-line employee. As a business grows, how could the upper management ever have a sense of whether or not it would be more efficient for an employee to stand on one side of the production line or the other, or for a sales person to shape the product mix to fit the customer’s needs? I have yet to meet an owner that can be on the operating floor full-time, while out making all sales decisions, developing new products, and still thoughtfully drive the strategic direction of the company beyond a tiny mom and pop operation. The only way is to begin to trust others to make decisions. You can choose to trust managers to make all the decisions or you can engage the entire organization to be an idea machine. Remember that people fundamentally want to feel needed, consider fully engaging your entire employee base. It will lead to a happier and more profitable company.
Enjoy the Journey!