Objectivity -- The best bureaucracy killer
Thursday September 13, 2012
By Bill Van Eron
Chief Innovation Strategist at Headwaters Marketing
A few years ago, I tried to prematurely launch a sophisticated analytics company - Inolytx LLC -- to help C-level managers get through information overload and down to what matters as a continuous process of insight provided by an advanced version of Six Sigma.
It was interesting to realize how many of our C-level managers still go by (and prefer to go by) intuition alone. I believe the research we gathered showed 85 percent. In today's fast-changing markets, the cost of misinformed intuition can be enormously high. Why not augment it with real insight? Why not stay open to challenging our core beliefs?
In the absence of a really robust "subcraption detector," as I half jokingly call it, one of the best attributes that can be applied is objectivity. In this article I want to address the power objectivity really brings to the table and why -- in its absence -- many organizations fall into a bureaucratic abyss.
Why is objectivity so important?
It keeps us all honest. It keeps us relevant. It connects us with our customers. It signals to everyone internally and externally that their ideas matter versus the effect of close-mindedness, opinionated, controlling, traditional, slow and other descriptors that happen easily when you remove objectivity from the game.
Once bureaucracy settles in, it's game over.
Why is it hard for most organizations to achieve?
Most of us can cite a dozen or so closed organizations, and yet we also know they appear defensive or oblivious to changing that so we tread carefully. One likely candidate: People in power positions who are still prone to value control versus enablement. Sure, they like to enable others -- but within a span of control.
As an acid test, how many managers do you see applying the decades-old, 360-degree reviews on their performance evaluations? I will offer that the answer is "very few." Contrast that with Google CEO Larry Page's open challenge to the status quo as part of the Google culture and how empowered teams and people look forward to presenting ideas that are then openly supported and challenged so they can see the proper light of day.
That "light of day" is far more truthful when objectivity is present.
Why is objectivity so easy for outsiders to offer?
In general, an outsider who is not vested in making others look good, or in preserving the status quo, is in truth more so an insider as they may hold the inside scoop on what should be done. But I do not want to trivialize what it takes for an outsider to win regard for the value of their opinions.
You have to know what you are talking about. When I look at almost any organization's website for an hour or so, I can often tell you where they are as a culture, as a brand, as an effective communicator, market-focused or product-focused, a dinosaur or emerging giant.
Better yet, I can often put my finger on exactly what it will take to close the gap.
Why isn't my phone ringing off the hook?
I focus my value on helping an organization to be better, to be credible, relevant -- to be externally focused no matter where they are in their evolution. The clients I do work with usually (though not always) want that, too, but the human equation also shows many just don't want to look bad.
They would rather look good than be good, and just like a company is transparent to its customers, those success-limiting people in power will lose their control as more and more of us just expect better.
I can tell when I talk to someone's boss and what they respond to -- or fail to respond to -- exactly what is going on, good or bad. That may be testament to why I wrote this article. Getting past this debilitating obstacle by showing a true willingness for challenging our strongest assumptions is where the leaders of today and tomorrow will be defined.
Of that I am certain.
Just this last month alone, I have seen this objectivity-blocking behavior in government, education and in a startup, and I have also seen the opposite in each, which was personally encouraging. Unfortunately, for our foreseeable future, hidden agendas and efforts to control others will continue.
Patience and collaboration may not be the fastest route to change, but they can help. "Change happens" just the same, so we are either enablers or blockers.
Test yourself. List 5 things you feel are core to your business success and how you go about achieving them today. Look at your success rate and invite experienced outsiders to come in and give their earnest opinions. If it turns out that you were doing great, that's a win. If you learn a better way, that, too, is a win.
The beauty of objectivity is you can't lose.
Become a change advocate in your organization and start with objectivity as a core value.