What’s your message?

innov poster2

Have you been here? The poster is clever. But the reality is that many organizations have a culture that sends these messages.

I’ve seen it.  Some organizations prefer the status quo, others get so caught up in the cycle of association work they “don’t have the time to think” others are afraid of what change might bring. These organizations tend to encourage “dreaming small” rewarding work and people that come in under budget, on time and without causing any disruption or unsettled feelings. Some of these organizations even talk of supporting innovation. But, when the work starts, questioning is discouraged, disagreeing is taken as a personal affront, and new ideas are met with a chorus of excuses…“we’ve tried that,” “you don’t understand how our organization works,” “we’ve always done it this way.”

Organizational culture sets the tone for how engagement and new ideas are responded to.

With the increased competition for people’s attention, time and money why would you discourage any of your team from being engaged, thinking or striving to help your organization be stronger?  Three things to consider today:

Do you foster a safe environment for your team? Does your team feel comfortable expressing relevant thoughts and feelings without fear of being penalized or ridiculed?

 Do you nurture a culture of inquiry where people feel it is accepted to question, dissent, probe or challenge ideas, practices and opportunities?

Does your team treat each other with respect?  This doesn’t mean they don’t question, it means that they treat each other respectfully when they do.

*The poster is part of a “Save the Inventor” campaign posted at the Union Station Metro Station, Washington DC, January 20, 2015

“What should we stop doing?”

If you are going to pose the question “what should we stop doing” you must be prepared to discuss the responses, honestly and without judgment. Otherwise you risk setting the impression that you don’t really plan to make any changes which can result in turning your staff off.

My personal experience with this question has not been good. At one association staff were asked to post suggestions of things the organization could stop doing. I posted my recommendation to stop a program.  Shortly after my post went up I was approached by the senior staff member who oversaw the program and asked to remove my recommendation. No discussion, no asking why I made the recommendation, just the request. So, I removed the post and ended my engagement in the effort.

At another organization I recommended we stop hosting a program that I led.  The executive staff member was basically offended and told me that I could not understand the organization mission if I wanted to end this program.  This time there was a little follow up discussion, but the tone and questioning were not encouraging or engaging.

Thankfully, I am not a shrinking violet, so making these recommendations was not difficult for me personally. But for staff less comfortable expressing their opinion, these situations could have marked the end of real engagement.

Both situations could have been salvaged with a good discussion.  Had senior staff been prepared to have real dialogue about the programs or my insights I think I would have listened. These could have been opportunities to inform me of program value or information I was unaware of or explore other ways that we might better meet the goals of the programs.

Here are a few questions you might consider if you start this discussion:

    • How does the program/resource serve your mission?
    • How does the program serve a core member segment?
    • How else could we serve our mission?
    • How could we improve the existing program to better serve members, the mission and the organization?
    • Which of our programs could we emphasize instead?

You could also try using the Five Whys Game to better understand why staff are recommending a program or resource be ended.  The game essentially poses five why questions to try to get beyond the surface of a challenge and discover the root cause.