By Christopher Flett
April 16, 2009
I’ve been spending an increasing amount of time with North American ‘business leaders’ over the last six months. With markets in turmoil, employees scared of layoffs and cutbacks, and increasing scrutiny by investors, many C-Level managers are feeling the weight of their companies and the associated stress increasing on a weekly basis. When I spend time with these leaders and their teams, I’m reminded that the normal corporate mindset is that those in the C-Suite are the only ones that can come up with solutions.This is simply not true.
The skill set that gets companies into problems will not be adequate for getting companies out of those same problems. It requires a higher level of thinking, consideration, and innovation. This higher level of thinking does not rest only in the C-Suite. It can be (and will be) found in all levels of a company. True leaders in this new economy know that they have to leverage the entire bench strength of their company if they are to succeed in a turbulent economy. If you have 50 people in your company, then you should have 50 minds working on solutions to corporate problems. Have 5,000 staff? The same holds true.
Leaders within your company, at all levels and in all areas, must be invited to work on solutions. Leaders, that might not have the associated titles (CEO, CFO, CIO, Director of Marketing), may think it wiser to keep their mouths shut, rather than present the solution that could change the tides for your business. A corporate environment that doesn’t incubate this type of engagement will miss out on potential solutions and revenues. Inclusion is the key to solution development.
Where are these leaders in your company? They could be anywhere and everywhere. They could be in the secretarial pool or in the mailroom. They can be in the C-Suite or at the divisional management level. The first step is for companies to get past the traditional vertical hierarchy of a corporate structure and instead ‘flatten’ out their organizational chart and invite everyone to contribute potential solutions to challenges the company is facing. Instead of having the gallows environment of staff meetings with everyone waiting for the lay-off axe to fall, have company-wide meetings where everyone can brainstorm their ideas, and ‘leaders’ in all areas and departments can be invited to engage in finding solutions.
What would happen if you posed the following questions to your entire staff: What can we do as a company to avoid layoffs? What markets should we be selling into that we aren’t? Where are we wasting money and how can we minimize this waste? How can we run a tighter ship without anyone losing his or her job, having to do more, or making the work environment less comfortable? If you were CEO or a member of the executive, what would you do differently?
Don’t discount the leadership that lies hidden within your company. Objectivity doesn’t have to be brought in on contract. It might be residing in your mailroom, updating your blog, or be working the switchboard. The person sending out your corporate press releases may have a solution to your challenges your sales department is facing, and so on. Look to develop the leadership within your company. In the companies I have worked with, over 80 percent of the workable solutions to business problems come from people not responsible for that area of the business. Objectivity is the key component to finding solutions. Companies that tap the full intellectual talent of their entire staffs will sail through the economic storm faster, stronger, and more profitable then ever before. Those that don’t could be lost. Make the decision to empower your staff and you will in turn strengthen your company and your bottom line.
Christopher Flett is the author of “What Men Don’t Tell Women About Business” (Wiley & Sons) and the founder of the Ghost CEO-ÂÂ¢. He is a sought-after business adviser, speaker, and trainer and can be reached at [email protected].