Much of what is wrong in most companies stems from the way programs and projects are communicated. The announcement of a well-intended idea, solution or proposal is more likely to incite protest than it is to garner support.
Most of the negative reactions are the result of too few people getting a chance to “see” the project or to understand what is expected from them before the launch; they only get a sense of it after-the-fact, and they feel left out. Too often, a well-intentioned program has reached the execution stage before the employees most impacted by it have a chance to understand and support the outcomes.
When this happens followers will react in predictable ways: some accept it as a step in the right direction while others challenge the need to deviate from past practices. Most lack sufficient information to take a stand either way and sit by idly while the opposing forces do battle. If the neutral majority does not like the outcome, they will eventually complain to each other or post emails griping about the idiots in charge.
The key to ensuring a successful project launch lies in the creation of a critical thinking process that has a three-pronged purpose: (1) to reinforce functional behaviors, (2) to discontinue dysfunctional practices and (3) to help those sitting on the fence to get involved for the right reason.
In additional to training key players how to think critically, you need to adopt more open processes for sharing information, forming plans and building consensus so that all of what is known about a particular issue or problem is thoughtfully considered before a decision is made.
Such an open processes will expose all concerned parties – perhaps for the first time – to the possibility that they may not know the “truth,” and that they may not be able to discover it on their own.
Having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. (Ben Franklin, 1787)
The key to fostering critical thinkers like Ben Franklin is to select the most appropriate factors and pose the right questions. Here are some prime examples of both:
Assumptions: What conclusions have people brought with them? What do they actually know? What information is missing? Do their assumptions differ?
Opinions: What do people think should happen? Who has taken a stand? Who is open to change? Are people proactive or reactive? How were their opinions formed?
Perceptions: What do people think has happened? What information has gotten through? What needs correcting? How clear is everyone? Who is aware and who is not?
Expectations: What are the anticipated outcomes? What sources are people using for their information? What’s the difference between what is wanted and what is proposed?
Viewpoints: What do people see from where they stand? What views are represented? Are they looking at the facts? Who’s views are blocked and by what?
The tone and tenor of communication between leaders and followers in a functional organization tend to be inclusionary, which means that no one is left out of the data gathering and information sharing process.
Effective leaders must first seek out and consider all views before deciding. As open processes begin to form, your leaders will be amazed to discover how much of what they intended to communicate got through intact and how much got lost along the way. They will soon realize that it is important for them to suspend judgment until everything that is known has been completely digested.
What is broken in most companies can be fixed. But, you cannot expect your followers to do it without support from above. In order to ensure functionality leaders must get involved by looking for opportunities where they can make a positive difference.
As the transformation to functionality takes hold in your company, you will find satisfaction in knowing you helped to build a better future.