Rebels at Work exist because organizations and leaders fail sometimes, or maybe more often than that. When we talk to managers and leaders, however, most of them say they sincerely want to encourage new ideas from their workforce. But what they don't comprehend are the unintended consequences of the words they use. Words that bosses think encourage new ideas from their workforce just don't...and sometimes they actually turn off the spigot.
Let's see how you do on the following True-False test. These phrase may or may not encourage team members to share their ideas for improvement.
Do you have any comments?
FALSE. Probably the most common phrase bosses use to end meetings. We've yet to talk to any employee, however, who thought the phrase actually was an invitation for anyone to speak. Usually said after a 50-minute monologue, this question seems more intended to indicate that the meeting has come to an end. Certainly what you get is...crickets.
I have an Open Door policy.
FALSE. A reliable chestnut for "good bosses" everywhere and yet remarkably ineffective. I'm sure some of you are wondering what could be wrong with having an Open Door policy. Think about where that phrase puts the onus for action--not on the boss, of course, but on the employees. Yes, you can share an idea with me but you have to come into the official Boss Space to share it. The best way for a boss to have an "open door" policy is not to ever mention it, not to make a big deal of it, but simply, through her actions, to demonstrate that she is always approachable. We're reminded of the apocryphal story concerning what St. Francis of Assisi said when asked about the best way to evangelize:
Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use Words!
I manage through consensus.
FALSE. Another popular management "best practice" that we take issue with. When you say you value consensus you are of course sending the clear message that you don't like disagreements. Your employees will wonder what standard their concerns or opinion must meet to warrant mentioning. This is not a productive dynamic.
Don't bring me a problem unless you have a solution.
So of course by now the attentive reader knows we think this is FALSE. In fact, we would go so far to say that it is one of the stupidest notions in modern management. When an employee notices something is amiss, he should be encouraged to mention it as quickly as possible. Asking the observer to also provide the solution reinforces the unhealthy view that excellence in organizations is about individual performance. Excellence is more sustainable when it is team-based. An individual who notices a problem should be encouraged to engage his coworkers early on to identify a solution.
So what should bosses say to encourage Rebels at Work. It's actually pretty simple.
What did I get wrong?
What are we missing?
What would you add?
How would you do it differently?
Why don't you take the lead?