Let’s face it. Employees that come up with insights and ideas can be annoying. After all, we all work hard to get policies in place. We hold meetings to make sure that employees understand these policies and we pay for expensive software to conform to these policies. We also reward people for complying.
In a recent staff meeting, Ruth was recognized by her fellow clinic staff members for being the best director because the clinic achieved 100 percent of its compliance goals. While many of these were related to patient care, and compliance is actually a good thing, in contrast, 20 percent of the compliance goals were purely administrative. With these goals, compliance equated to “following policy.” Ruth reacted with a half-baked “thank you” as she began to think for a moment that this compliance was not so great after all. A fleeting thought. She moved on with her busy day.
Lynnmarie (aka “LM”), known as a maverick among her peers on the pediatric cardiology floor, has both a good and bad reputation. The good news is that she’s always coming up with new ideas. One of the comments from James was “if you want to discover a better way to care for a patient, just ask LM.” Drew wasn’t so kind, whispering “she never gets her really work done—always looking for an excuse not to pull her weight.”
What is going on? Honestly, we are annoyed when insights and ideas come our way. Why? We are creatures of habit. Insights and ideas challenge the status quo. We shy away from anything that increases risk. If we keep things the same, we believe that we minimize risk.
At the same time, we hear something different in the hallways. We hear from the administration that they want ideas. Bill Townsend, CEO of StorNetworks and Lykebox, and I surveyed more than 300 CEOs about insight and ideas in their companies. Among the themes that emerged from their responses are:
- CEOs believed that they communicated to their managers and employees that insight and ideas were more than welcome in their organizations.
- CEOs reported such a disappointment in the absence of insight and ideas.
This is even more evidence that there’s a good chance that we just don’t truly demonstrate to our employees that new things are really appreciated. Not all of the employees understood that Lynnmarie was instrumental in moving the unit forward.
We so often value compliance over creativity, if we are honest. Amazon shows more than 1,100 books on leadership and alignment. Do we really want to align? Do new ideas align and comply? No.
In our daily conversations, what words in our company cultures can sink your company? Consider these: compliance, continuity, convergence, constant, centralize, common, collective, combine, consolidate, configure, and connect. As these words are conveyed, they immunize us against insight and ideas. Are there times when some of all of these “C’s” are useful? Sure. Are there nonnegotiables in patient services that make these words important? Absolutely. Thus, weigh the cost of the “C” words. Use them cautiously and carefully—where really necessary.
How, then, do we dial up the volume and get insights and ideas. First, I think we frame, for ourselves, what insights and ideas are. In his book Seeing What Others Don’t, Gary Klein says that insights change and even transform how we understand, act, see, and feel. In contrast, intuition is about processing things we already know. We say to ourselves “our intuition tells us that we should hire this new employee.” Intuition is powerful and should not be discounted, but insights change us in a compelling way.
Thus, we need to push for high magnitude changes, consistent with Klein’s perspective. As a boss, John was committed to dialing the amount of insight in the urgent care clinic in Plano. He wondered how he could start, especially since this would represent a change in his style of management. He had his first “insight” meeting and asked the following questions:
- What processes do we have that we could cut the time to get it done in half?
- What best practices, now matter how small, could we transfer to another area within our immediate space?
- What ideas that have nothing to do with our organization do we need to consider putting in place?
- What activities are not value-added?
The employees chose one of the questions and formed teams for each one. They had 30 minutes to generate an initial list that would be presented to the total group. This was marginally successful, since the employees 1) didn’t know how serious John was, and 2) didn’t know if they could trust everyone else. John acknowledged this— wanting to inject transparency into the culture of the organization. The employees were then asked to join the same or a different team that would then detail changes. Only three of the four teams met, as the employees did not opt in to continue with Team Four. John supported this. What followed was an incredible set of insights that changed the culture of the organization.
In sum, consider the notion of insights and ideas. Look and listen for detractors and detours that sidestep greatness in our organization.
Gary R. Carini is the professor of management and associate dean for graduate business programs at the Hankamer School of Baylor University. For the past 20 years, he has served as a consultant and facilitator for several Fortune 100 companies. The work focuses primarily on how companies achieve and sustain a competitive advantage in a changing marketplace.