“Ideas can come from anywhere.” – speech from this year’s CEO roundtable.
I’ve always found that I like to get ideas from everywhere— even random people can often give me a perspective that helps me clarify the situation, and therefore the answer. My leadership philosophy is that I gather the best ideas, pick one, and then execute—as all the best leadership books will tell you. Let’s take a recent example.
I knew we needed to reinvent or at the very least shake up our HR department. It was a complete and total mess. So, I gathered all the executives into a meeting and asked for ideas about what a structure that would work better for the firm might look like. Of course, they wanted to go into elaborate detail about what wasn’t working before we decided on a strategy, but I wanted to be decisive and just get the mess cleaned up before it started sticking to me like glue. So, I shut that conversation down and asked for ideas to fix it.
Reluctantly, they all gave some ideas; some were terrible, but a couple in there were worth consideration. After eliminating the really stupid or costly ideas, we decided to rework the department, hire a more senior VP to run the division, and create some clear-cut objectives that the department needs to achieve over the next year. Everyone left the room feeling pretty good about it, and I must say I felt pretty good about my leadership through a potential crisis.
The following day I had a lunch with some fellow CEOs—we meet up at least once a month to catch up and share ideas—and I shared my HR story. We had a few great laughs about the HR leader who left and also my shutting down the discussion about what went wrong—who needs to listen to all that whining! One of the guys had a great idea to just outsource the whole damn thing. He said that HR is so transferable these days that outsourcing it is a great way to save money and get rid of the “people” headache that it creates.
I was a little skeptical about how that might work with over five hundred people in the company, but he assured me it was the only way to go. His fifty-person company was running better than ever with an outsourced model. He called it outsourcing the whining! I liked the sound of that!
Later that day I was getting a haircut, and I really enjoy getting perspective from my stylist; he’s a great guy and hears so much that I always get a piece of wisdom from him. He thought it was a great idea and even had a suggestion for the firm: one of his clients! This idea was really coming together, so when he offered to make the introduction, I was all over it. I followed up with a call to the CEO, and we had a great talk. She had never worked with a firm as large as ours before but was confident it would be no problem, and she was completely staffed up to do so!
The next morning, I sent out the following email to the Senior Executive Team:
Although we had a great meeting yesterday and came up with some good solutions, I’ve been talking to a few people and come up with a better strategy. Let’s outsource the entire department. No need to have this expensive department in-house; it’s just a headache and a burden. I’ve asked HR Outfitters to give us a quote, and I’m convinced it’s the way to go.
Rod, I’ve CC’d you on the email to HR Outfitters, so go ahead and get that contract executed ASAP.
Susan, can you work up the list of people in the department we’ll need to let go and get that over to HR Outfitters so they can do the layoffs? No point in us doing it.
Of course, there was some grumbling about the new strategy, but as a leader, it’s your job to be open to new ideas, wherever they might come from. I feel confident that by going to seemingly random sources, the solutions can be better than what the team came up with in the first place!
LET’S GET REAL
Getting outside perspectives is always a good idea. Using that information to override your team without their input is usually a recipe for a giant face-plant. Unfortunately, leaders do this on a regular basis. Ever heard of the leader who only listens to the last person he spoke with, so the team always tries to be the last one in line, so their idea is the winner?
Sometimes a problem cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created it in the first place. In that instance, it’s the leader’s job to encourage the team—not the leader—to think out of the box. The team always needs to be involved in the solution, or it will be dead on arrival. How invested in the new HR outsource strategy do you think the team of our blockheaded CEO’s company is? Not only will they not be invested in making it a success, they will likely do all they can to sabotage it.
Great leaders encourage the team to look at outside contributors for ideas, not just the leader. Then everyone can get back together to decide on the right strategy. Those leaders who are always looking outside of the team and change direction more often than a feather in the wind end up with mediocre solutions and disengaged teams. Leaders who encourage the team to think out of the box and to own and implement their own solutions will have much better outcomes than our fickle leader who puts as much stock in his Magic 8 Ball as he does his own leadership team.