Over the past 25 years, I’ve coached a mix of executives in for profit and not-for-profit companies like Kellogg’s, Monsanto, SoCalGas, Newark City Government, The United Way, IBM, and AT&T. I've been in board rooms with people fretting about decreases in market share, swirling about regulatory agencies, and agonizing about visions for a tomorrow they don’t quite understand. Along with getting paid to calm their nerves, there are a few common themes I've noticed that keep popping up that are helpful for everyone, from the C-Suite to the junior staffers.
Sharing is key.
When I share my notion about root problems with the CEO and executive team they usually say that I am really sharp. I correct them. My discovery comes from talking to the people who work there, asking questions beyond defined job roles. The first five people lead me to others who lead me to others that lead to the weaving of the real story.
Share what you know. People believe that knowledge is power so they tend to hold it close. If the people I speak to would have shared what they knew with each other, they could have come up with a similar conclusion.
Brilliance resides where you least expect it.
With that in mind, sometimes the executive team is surprised by some of the people I speak with, unaware that insight and understanding reside with people in roles they would not have considered. People in finance, product development and legal affairs have a different understanding about the market than marketing people do.
Therefore, keeping in your insulated worlds can limit you at the workplace; find opportunities in other departments to use the breadth of what you can do.
Figure out how to innovate.
Companies that are market leaders tend to be attached to what brought them to that space, believing that what they had always done would keep them successful and the rules wouldn’t change that much. They get stuck. They don’t know how to look outside of their habits to discover what will make them successful in the future.
Everyone at work should keep in mind that the skills, knowledge and talent that got you to where you are won’t necessarily keep you there. Continue to learn and innovate products, services and self.
No one is perfect, and that’s a good thing.
I once witnessed a CEO and his staff make the decision to outsource equipment fabrication, believing that their success rested on marketing and this action would increase profits. When some core design capabilities became industry standards within a few years, the CEO recognized the mistake and took action, without finger pointing.
Getting it wrong is your greatest opportunity to getting it right the next time. Don’t let conformity keep you from taking risks or judiciously speaking your mind. And, if you are wrong, learn from it and move on quickly.
Leave your desk.
In another company, employees were concerned about changes in regulation and how the company was responding to up and coming competitors’ low cost approach to market. The C-suite believed that brand and legacy would carry them. Over time, price emerged as a more important driver. Senior management could have learned a lot by listening to informal conversation among employees in a relaxed setting.
Engage in more at your company than just your office. Join task forces, volunteer at organizations the company supports, do something as simple as go to lunch with a coworker or boss. You never know where concerns and good ideas can be heard and travel upward.
Your problem is not what you think it is.
The root of a problem is not always obvious. Even if there’s agreement in the boardroom, such cohesion can lead to interfering with something that might not be broken while what is broken gains steam. For example, decreases in market share are not always a marketing problem; sometimes it's an engineering or fulfillment problem.
Look deeper into a problem by talking with your peers across the organization. The extra effort can yield important findings impactful to your organization and you.
Helen Rothberg is a professor in the school of management at Marist College. Her book The Perfect Mix: Everything I Know About Leadership I Learned as a Bartender is out now.