The need for organizations to harness the collective abilities of their people for the sake of effective strategy implementation is getting stronger.  This came up again and again at a round table discussion on ‘Improving Business Results Through People’ at the EACD Conference in Berlin last week.

To be clear – this is not about how leaders can ‘get people to better implement the strategy’, but ‘how people can better implement the strategy together’.   What’s the difference?  You can’t ‘get’ people to do something, they have to do it themselves:

  • because commitment and dedication come from a spirit of shared ownership, not from individual ownership.
  • because effective actions come from a people having a good shared understanding, not from having a good individual understanding.
  • because innovation comes from bridging ideas between people, not from individuals alone.
  • and because, therefore, success comes from teams, not from individuals.

Yet there’s a fundamental premise that people operate under at work that fundamentally undermines the spirit of ‘collective ability’, which is the belief that: “Being professional means hiding my emotions.”

To a certain extent of course that’s true. People throwing temper tantrums or mimicking the boss is not exactly conducive to building ‘collective ability’.  But it’s not so black and white.

“Being professional means hiding my emotions.”

Let’s think this through. We know from the Social Sciences literature that we all have our own interpretations, biases, and unique perspectives on what is happening around us.  And we also like to feel that we belong, that we are heard, understood, and valued.

In terms of building shared understanding and ownership at work and creating that ‘collective ability’ to implement the strategy, here at Mirror Mirror, we have found three key behaviours to be key.

The first is openness. When people are being open, they are being honest and vulnerable: laying open their values, opinions, and ideas for all to criticise.

The second is respect.  When people realise that what other people think and feel is true for them at that time, and when they can let go of the idea that the objective is to agree, they can hear others and appreciate their viewpoints without judgement.

And the third is inclusion.  Seeing everyone as equal and necessary in a whole system of delivery leaves no room for the dismissiveness of others.  Taking the views of others and exploring the assumptions and reasons behind those views always adds value.

When these behaviours ­ openness, respect, and inclusion – are practiced it’s almost impossible for people to hide their emotions.

In my experience, when you bring your whole self to work, business is personal.  And if you can express your emotions with others constructively, being personal in business is more useful and therefore also more professional. 

Where to start

Getting to the level of psychological safety needed for those behaviours to take hold can only be led by example from above.  Illustrating that, and to close, here’s a quote from an article in the Harvard Business Review from October 2017 about managing change:

Executives say that “… having an open dialogue around important strategic issues simply feels too risky…. that they will lose control…. In fact, psychology and experience tells us, the reverse is true: a lack of genuine, reciprocal interaction and the feeling of imposed change increases employees’ anxiety and resistance.”

Closing the Strategy- Execution Gap Means Focusing on What Employees Think, Not What They Do by Alison Reynolds and David Lewis.