I've been thinking about posting something on this for a few weeks, linked in to my previous comments on employee engagement becoming more social.
As you may know, I'm involved in the Engage for Success movement for promoting engagement, e.g. being one of the team which host its podcast show. I also got involved in one of the special interest groups, focusing on the future of engagement, recently. And I was going to facilitate one of their workgroups but felt I had to back out for a couple of different reasons. One of these was that I was planning on facilitating a session to identify the major forces acting on engagement, and how these forces and therefore the way we need to engage people, needs to change. But it turned out that we'd already asked a number of academics to give us their perspectives and my work was to help people react to these. I don't like this split between academic and practitioners - I think we all have an equal potential to comment on anything like engagement - and particularly on something as unmeasurable as how this may change in the future.
Even more importantly, it's a poor way to engage, so if engagement in an idea is as important as the idea itself, it makes no sense to just tell people the idea and ask for their comments - this is never going to be as compelling as getting people to input into the original idea. Particularly when the idea is actually about engagement!
I talk quite about this with business leaders about this too. I think the tendency is to worry about employees coming up with the wrong suggestion if they're consulted in major business or organisational decisions. I try to remind the executives about the wisdom of the crowd i.e. that if employees come up with a decision which is different to the ones the leaders were going to have made it may well be that the employees will be right! Plus of course, whatever the decision is, it means the employees will be more committed to it. Better a less good strategy executed well than a perfect strategy which nobody wants to support.
Of course if executives are going to consult like this they need to be prepared to take the actions their employees suggest. Acting on employee suggestions will be more motivating than telling employees to implement something, but telling them this will still be a lot more motivating than consulting employees for their views and then ignoring what they say.
It makes a lot of sense to me, but I'm increasingly noticing how hard we find it to do.
So in my last post I talked about how pleased I was that the CIPD is pursuing some actions to stimulate innovation in HR e.g. the hackathon it's running with Gary Hamel's Management Innovation Exchange (the MIX). I also suggested that it'd got off to a poor start. Maybe it's just me but I find being given the perspectives of a supposed expert on something (can anyone really be an expert on the future?) and being asked to comment as a lot less engaging than being given the opportunity to leap in on an equal footing to everyone else.
And why have the experts make their inputs first, meaning it is less likely for others to find space to contribute their ideas (like Gary Hamel opening up the CIPD's hackathon - surely if they really are experts, they should be in a better position to fill in the gaps once everyone else has already had their go?
There's a further incongruity in that the hackathon is designed as a forum to encourage social innovation in which people can act together to swarm and cluster around good ideas, building on these and developing them organically and naturally into new management approaches, or hacks. So why limit this ability by imposing hierarchy on what is supposed to be social and spontaneous? Ie do we really need the MIX's mix (sorry) of mavericks, guides, coaches and hackers (which I've just noticed includes me apparently).
I also thought that innovation is supposed to come from the periphery. This isn't Gary, it's us!
I also think that social innovation is more about social connection that it is social content sharing. It's great to be able to share ideas on innovating HR, but if we're not connected with each other, if we don't trust each other, it's going to limit our ability to build on each others' ideas.
The other action the CIPD have been taking is asking people to suggest '100 thoughts' on how the profession is going to develop over the next 100 years. I really, really like some of the suggestions in this - and plan to post soon. But why give a 'special invitation' to supposed experts - and why give them more space to comment than everyone else?
The only answer I've got to these questions is that, whilst we understand the future needs to be more social and collaborative, we're still thinking hierarchically about how we create this future.
That's not that I'm set against hierarchy - there are quite a few suggestions in the hackathon about ditching hierarchy but I can't see it happening. And I don't think we necessarily need to do so anyway. Most of what people object to in hierarchy aren't natural, necessary aspects of hierarchy, they're symptoms of hierarchies implemented badly. Hierarchies have a use, and, implemented well, they shouldn't stop people doing what they need to do - working sideways as well as up and down.
Hierarchical thinking is different - it serves no purpose and we need to try harder to get rid of it.
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