Great Ideas Keep Coming Back Better

One of the few advantages of being old is that you get to see great ideas come back into fashion. They often return with new names or even whole new sets of buzzwords, but the time-honored idea is still in there, working its magic. Some, like the case below, even come back improved.

One of my favorite new/old ideas was called "empowerment" in the 1985-95 time frame. Before that, in the Theory X days of mass production (Kids, Google "Theory X."), it was called "taking their excuses away." More recently it has reemerged as a set of techniques ranging from "participative decision making" to "crowd sourcing." The last term often refers to a crowd that is far larger than the circle of employees in a plant, but it uses techniques that work just as well within company confines.

The great idea here is trust. Leaders need to build a culture based on the notion that people have good ideas and  are willing to use them in support of an organization they trust. Thus, depending on the era in which we leaders live, we can -
• “Take their excuses away” by providing all the tools they need to do the job,
• “Empower them” by applying the four elements of empowerment; clear general instructions, tools and training, decision-making authority, and an appropriate measurement and reward system,
• “Create a culture of achievement” by building a trained team and calling upon them to create solutions to problems and make improvements to daily operations.

However we characterize the approach, we are trusting the workers (or members or associates) not to hang their brains on the coat rack when they come to work, but to bring them in and use them to help run the business. In some organizations, the trust is even stretched farther by asking customers and other stakeholders to weigh in on key decisions.

Calling on people to use all their faculties to do the job results in a better workplace for everyone. The workers get to enjoy using their higher faculties. It gives them room to move up Maslow's Hierarchy to work on self-actualization instead of just survival stuff.  From the company's and customers' standpoints it focuses a huge, free intellectual resource on a broad range of performance issues and opportunities.

Maybe the coolest thing about engaging the interest and intelligence of the work force is that all that smart power becomes available at the very place in the organization where most of the information is generated. Production, maintenance, customer service, quality, all the characteristics that make or break a manufacturing organization happen on and around the production lines and cells. The rest is mostly logistics.

Oh yeah, that reminds me of another fashion name for the same idea, “the learning organization.” You probably had a leisure suit then.

One more thing - if you hear someone talk about "sharing ideas to get buy-in" for his ideas, don't trust him. He still has a leisure suit.

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  • <p>Great blog. And very timely. I'm surprised you didn't mention Sansabelt slacks, btw. Wearing them requires a considerable degree of trust. Theory Y leaders typically produce better results, but only because they tend to attract the types of employees who appreciate that leadership style and excel under it. So, in the interest of coming back better than ever, when should I break my two-tone saddle shoes out of storage?</p>


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