God Forbid You Actually Listen to the Bottom 98%
This article caught my eye, this idea that someone other than top executives might actually have some ideas.
In “Followership,” a book being published this winter, Ms. Kellerman argues that a big organization’s fate can be surprisingly dependent on how well it understands thousands of low-ranking employees, and makes them more effective. Entrepreneurs Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom took a similar perspective last year in their book, “The Starfish and the Spider,” suggesting that lower-ranking employees, called catalysts, need to drive organizational change, instead of top bosses.
Considering that the Lean and Toyota Way philosophies have been, for so long, based on listening to the ideas of those who actually do the work, how is this considered innovative thought?? Isn’t that the whole magic of the Toyota approach, helping make all employees effective and getting them pointed in the same direction? Is Toyota avoiding that “big companies die” dynamic better than most?
The Best Buy chain is trying, to their credit, to implement such ideas:
“Look at why big companies die,” says Shari Ballard, Best Buy’s executive vice president, retail channel. “They implode on themselves. They create all these systems and processes — and then end up with a very small percentage of people who are supposed to solve complex problems, while the other 98% of people just execute. You can’t come up with enough good ideas that way to keep growing.”
When she visits Best Buy’s electronics stores, Ms. Ballard says she asks managers: “What do you know about your customers that I couldn’t possibly know?” The question encourages local initiatives that help Best Buy grow.
The idea that the “very small percentage” of top leaders are supposed to come up with the ideas, with the workers “just executing” — that’s Taylorism and MBA-centric thinking at its finest (yes, I have an MBA myself… sorry). What do you think about that question she asks her store managers. Would you phrase it that way? Seems like the right direction, but there’s something about that phrasing I don’t like… that “I couldn’t possibly know” part could put people on the defensive (making them not want to show up the boss) depending on how the words are delivered and the organizational culture.
Anyway, interesting article and hopefully a trend that will grow — actually listening to the people who are closer to the front lines. Shocking! Well… it’s shocking, unless you’ve been studying Toyota and Lean.