Yes, it does start at the top.
Big trees die from the top down. Interesting. Businesses die the same way. When growth and creativity stop at the top, the organization begins to die. Management will not usually recognize this. At the first sign of things drying up, management will do the one thing that most stresses the organism: prune.
When things start to dry up, that’s the time to water and fertilize. How? Ask. Few managers have the courage to ask their employees for ideas even though the employees are a proven reserve of innovative thought. Hard to believe?
Employees have the most to lose. They also are closest to the problem and hands on. Your customers have told them what needs to be done. They have ideas but nobody asks for them.
Back at the top, efficiency becomes the key word. Striving for efficiency is suicide. Efficiency should never be the goal. (I can explain that in a conversation) The goal needs to be profits through sales. But management goes into a preservation mode—we must save the business! Cut cost. Get credit. Outsource. Reduce work force. Cut. Cut. Cut. You can’t grow by cutting.
Yes, efficiency matters. But it should not be the goal. Making efficiency the goal will only delay the inevitable death of the business.
So, when it starts to look like things are going downhill, what to do? Ask your people. Not in meetings. Start by having private conversations. Talk to as many people as you can within your business. Survey them. Gather thoughts and ideas.
Get rid of the Devil’s Advocate. Anyone that picks apart new ideas needs to go. They are probably the most expensive people around you and they kill new thought. Get rid of them.
Understand that the ideas you will gather are not fully mature. That’s your job. Instead of looking for the flaws, focus on the merit of the ideas. Then build on the merit.
This takes courage. It also takes brains. It’s easy to cut. Building in a tough market or bad economy is hard. But if you look at the companies that survive and thrive, they do it with smarts, courage and focus not with pruning shears.
Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog