Separate People from Their Ideas
Previous

That’s one of three keys to building a culture in which employees are unafraid to challenge management’s long-held assumptions.

We’re enormous fans of Scott Berkun. Previously in this space, we’ve shared his tips for soliciting feedback and pitching ideas. Not long ago, a reader of his blog asked:

“Assumptions have an unnerving way of becoming facts and received wisdom over time. How do you build some functional assumption-checking into a project team, a process that generates useful feedback and moves the team effort forward?”

Berkun’s answer was rich with insight. Some highlights:

“The only real answer to questions of culture is you hire for it,” he writes. “Culture change is slow, much slower than technological change. This mystifies technocrats, as it should. People are much more challenging and powerful than machines will ever be.”

The emphasis on hiring seems simple, even obvious. Yet leaders tend to think, mistakenly, that they can simply instill culture through the power of their leadership. “One great weakness of managers is their arrogant faith in the omnipotence of management,” Berkun writes. “There is the belief, reinforced by management consultants and business books, that simply by decreeing ‘be innovative’ or ‘work smarter,’ magic forces that transcend the limits of sociology will transform conservative or stupid people into being otherwise on your behalf. [However,] the ability of a manager to achieve something depends heavily on whether the people on staff are even capable of doing that thing.”

Berkun directly answers his reader’s question by providing three tips:

  1. Understand that some people are instinctively better at challenging assumptions than others.
    “They ask more questions, have more doubts, and are willing to act on them,” he writes. “I don’t know why they are this way, but I know these people exist. If you want more assumption-checking, hire for it. These people are harder to manage since they naturally challenge authority, but if you want assumptions challenged that includes the assumption of hierarchy.”
  2. Assess how you respond to having your assumptions challenged.
    “If you continually demonstrate that you, the person in charge, are comfortable being challenged or yielding your idea to a superior one suggested by a colleague or subordinate, everyone who works for you will emulate that behavior. Alternatively, if you dismiss challenges or yell at people who challenge you, the culture of fear your behavior creates will dominate no matter who you hire or how great you proclaim it is to challenge assumptions.”
  3. Separate people from their ideas.
    “Healthy debate is easy if no one is taking the results personally. Most heated debates involve people who have trouble separating their opinions from their identity (the lack of ability to find any humor in a debate is a good sign that someone is taking the issue too seriously). If I draw what turns out to be a lame idea on a whiteboard, in a healthy culture it’s reinforced that the idea is lame but I’m not. I can still be smart and valuable. Perhaps my lame idea will help lead to a great one. This trust in coworkers is what allows ideas to be debated, attacked, torn down, twisted, reused, and improved without any fear of offending anyone. Most successful creative cultures in history were based on this separation. It’s another set of behaviors that leaders must demonstrate regularly.”

Article provided by thebuildnetwork.com   © 2013 Mansueto Ventures LLC

Next

On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being 'Not Good' and 5 being 'Excellent', how would you rate this article?

Press enter to submit your rating

Rate this Article

Use this form to provide additional feedback based on the rating you provided.

Thanks for Rating

Would you like to provide feedback?

Thanks for your feedback!

The information, views, opinions, and positions expressed by the author(s) and/or presented in the article are those of the author or individual who made the statement and do not necessarily reflect the policies, views, opinions, and positions of Regions. Regions makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability, or validity of any information presented.

This information is general in nature and is provided for educational purposes only. Information provided and statements made by employees of Regions should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal, or tax advice. Regions encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation.