Making the best idea, not the loudest, heard
Businesses need to balance extrovertism and introvertism
Modern work claims to thrive on collaboration and connectivity, almost all business will have teamwork within their company values and have highly inspirational memes about living their virtues. That said, softer skills such as communication are becoming increasingly important. To connect with its customers businesses need to start realising that they need to be open to new ideas and strategies from the whole company, not just those who shout the loudest or have the most impressive job title.
One major issue lays in the way people believe businesses work or run. If you ask people to talk about Apple you’re likely to hear Steve Jobs mentioned within the first few minutes. Steve Jobs IS Apple. Essentially, people hold Apple's success to an extrovert and vibrant character, not its products or its strategies. It seems that, as people, we are still very much taken up with the cult of the leader. Another good example of this is Dragon’s Den, where making business deals and sensible investment decisions is a game show where the personality and charisma of a “leader” mean more than the product or idea itself.
In the western world we seem to like our business and political leaders to be strong, determined and able to force the course of events to their will. As such, many people in responsible roles will act this way. Leaders tend to portray the extrovert in the room, the strong personality who has the ability to inspire or influence but that doesn’t mean they’re right.
We must recognise that strong leaders and personalities within a business are useful but it is important to admit that leaders with strong personalities can also be a weakness. When decisions are based on personality they cannot be relied on to always be good. In an environment where extroverts thrive, how can we ensure the best idea is heard, even if it’s quietly spoken by an introvert? One key is balance. We need to realise that strong personalities might only appeal to a other strong personalities. When an organisation reveres enthusiasm and charisma it runs the risk of isolating talented individuals or always getting their ideas from the same people. If you have a talented introvert in your business this isolation can make them feel like they don’t fit in with your company and leave – or at worst make them forget that they are talented at all. This is where balance is essential.
Frustratingly, some of the ways businesses use to promote collaboration could be encouraging those that can shout loudest, rather than those who have the best ideas. Meetings and “brainstorming” can become almost gladiatorial, where individual’s win not the team.
How does First Response tackle this?
First Response Finance is no different to many companies in that we have these different personalities working for us from the major introvert to the out-there extrovert. We’re also no different in that we’ve had strong leaders, who could inspire and get stuff done (and it was a great benefit at the time), however, once we were established as a company it became apparent that we couldn’t meet our long term goals with this approach alone.
Whilst we’re not perfect we have a number of ideas we’re trying to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard and the best ideas are taken up – not just the noisy ones.
Putting decisions in the hands of those who do the work
By delegating operational decisions to those who actually need to implement them we can hopefully have the dual benefit of minimising the risk of top-down decision making and create the most relevant, practical solution that has the best chance of being adopted. Individuals can work on the best way to achieve something, (hopefully) free from a strong personality inadvertently taking over.
Collaboration software and communication apps
We’ve introduced software such as Skype, Trello and chat rooms to help with communication across sites and offices, they have the added benefit of allowing people share thoughts and ideas in a calm, non-confrontational space. This can help increase the likelihood that the best idea is heard – not the loudest.
Leadership academies and coaching workshops
Our internal development paths for leaders and influencers include work on situational leadership and challenge our leaders to adapt their natural style to the needs of their team. Our coaching ethos is based on the idea of the self-lead development of our staff, this has the benefit of ensuring it has the complete buy-in of the coachee.
Evidence based decisions
The basis of our change management is a “Check, Plan, Do” model. This step cycle requires us to understand the current organisation as a system, then identify levers for change and only then then take direct action on the system. This cannot happen without good measures and relies on decisions being made collectively.
Tellingly, during a quarterly update to the company our Director of Operations challenged us that “if you want to change something, my 1st question will be – where is your evidence?”
As a final note, we all have an ego. For some our ego will make us loud, proud and exploding with enthusiasm, for others, quiet contemplation is key. Neither of these will always be the right approach and so it’s important for businesses to make sure that all their people, regardless of ego are heard. Remember, balance is key.