I was fortunate to consult with a company recently which, over the last few years, made some bad decisions that had unfortunately produced poor results.
In fact, these decisions resulted in lower sales performances, lower profit conversion, lower team engagement and lower customer service standards than at any point in their history.
Yet, when I reviewed this with the directors of the company, they never challenged the ideas of Managing Director. The whole senior leadership team created a list of blame factors that resulted in underperformance. However, non of these factors implicated the MD’s or their bad decisions.
This culture had also spread like a contagious disease through every level of the company. Everyone agreed and complied with their manager, without question or genuine challenge.
For anyone looking at this company from the outside, it was obvious that generating this culture became a devastating illness. The people within the company lost their voice, therefore lost their engagement, which ultimately resulted in significantly lower performance.
Not one person is brighter, smarter or more aware, than a team of people who are all working towards the same goal and who are able to challenge for the common good.
“What great individuals cannot accomplish on their own, can be achieved by a high performance team”
A “Yes” culture should be avoided at all costs… It will erode your teams performance, sometimes forever. I had the opportunity to share a story, with this MD, about how I had encountered a “Yes” culture in my career, which allowed him to think a little differently.
I would like to share this story with you now, maybe it will make you think differently about your leadership situation.
About fifteen years ago I secured a leadership role in an exciting brand, but the team that I inherited had previously worked in a culture of saying “Yes” to their leader without question or input.
They didn’t think for themselves and they expected to be told what to do, all of the time.
This created a massive problem for me. I was new to the company and I didn’t have the knowledge of the intricate workings of the business.
Therefore I had two options:
A. Learn everything in the business really quickly, then create brilliant ideas on how to perform better and then tell my team what to do… step by step.
B. Assume that my team, on the whole, had the capability and knowledge to perform, (as they had performed well over the previous two years) then trust and empower them.
I decided to go for option B.
Firstly I replaced the ‘To-do’ lists with a team vision. I explained to my team how we would be in the future and what we would achieve in the future. I made it bright, I made it bold and I made it something that I personally believed in.
I then asked my team “How should we achieve this vision?”. Rather than telling my team what to do, step by step, I instead gave an intention on our destination.
Our team vision became to deliver world-class customer service. My team then told me how we would achieve this.
My team changed from a group of people who waited to be told what to do, to a team of people who decided what to do for the best interests of the vision. The ownership of decision making switched to them.
Once my team took the ownership, they started thinking for themselves, they became more engaged, they felt more valued and they became more productive.
Then the obvious happened…
My team were a group of two hundred capable people, who were focused, connected to each other and acted as decision makers.
The other teams in the company had one leader telling two hundred people what to do and when.
It doesn’t matter how creative, intelligent and smart the other leaders were. My team was two hundred times more creative, motivated, pro-active and intelligent… My team became unstoppable!
My team then out-performed every other team on every measure within the company – We had the best customer experience scores ever, the highest engagement scores and grew year-on-year profit more than any other team in the company. Ever.
The lesson I learnt was that a leader’s job is to move the decision making to where it needs to be… and that is never just with one person while everyone else follows without question.