Mar 22, 2017
One of the elements characteristic of an organization pursuing outcome management is the permission and freedom to explore and experiment. However, in order for staff members to feel that they can explore and try out new ideas, they must be free from two major organization impediments: the presence of an over-controlling authority structure and a mistake-punishing administration.
Many organizations are over-controlled. It is not unusual to trace this phenomenon to the personality of the chief executive. The CEO’s modus operandi may reveal itself in such practices as employee parking, rules concerning the copy machine, the number of duplicate documents made or requested, and whether employees receive their mail opened or not.
Most employees can accept some of these indignities, but as higher order controls also present themselves, the enthusiasm to be creative begins to wane. Higher order controls surround such issues as whether one has keys — and more important, to what? Purchasing freedoms, hiring authority, the type of information one may access, what permissions must be secured before taking action are other areas frequently over-controlled by management. Of immediate concern here is the freedom to initiate or suggest alternative program services or strategies, as well as management practices. Are employees encouraged to make proposals? Are their proposals read and responded to?
Over-controlled employees are easy to spot — their heads are bowed, and their spirits are broken. Such individuals will rarely engage in risk-taking activities and when first confronted with a novel situation, will look through the index of the organization’s Policy and Procedure Manual before doing anything. If, however, no one is looking, they will more likely telephone their fellow employees and ask them what to do. Personal judgment is very rarely called upon.
The extent to which the organization punishes mistakes is the other primary inhibitor of creativity and experimentation. Once again, this is true throughout the organization, whether it be at the corporate or operating level. An individual publicly embarrassed or humiliated will not feel free enough inside of his or her head to let the ideas fly — negative thoughts will dominate, and lost opportunities signal the failure of the day.
Mistakes need not be overlooked, but the preferred attitude is, “What have we learned from this situation?” The fact is we frequently learn more from our mistakes than our successes. In an organizational culture where mistakes are punished, they are also covered up, and so no one wins. The employee’s self-esteem and integrity also suffer.
However, exploration comes naturally to organizations seeking to improve continually. They are always pursuing better ways of doing things. This dynamic needs to be evident at all levels of the organization. Top management sets the tone of the creative environment. Furthermore, ideas must not only be welcome, they must be sought. Conversations with employees should include, “What’s your thinking on that responsibility?” “Now that you’ve been doing it for a while, do you have any ideas on how it could be done better?”
This is especially important with new employees. It should be a formality that, after 60 or 90 days of employment, the new employee meets with his or her supervisor and is asked, “What do you think about the way we are handling the laundry responsibilities?” “How are we managing the household chores?” and so on. All employees should feel that one element of their organizational responsibility is the responsibility to propose new ideas. The best ideas come forward from the employees who are doing the job that can always be done better. Ideas should be expected from everyone.
In addition to the natural flow of ideas, however, in-house seminars and creativity workshops stimulate original thinking. Many techniques are available to foster such desired behavior.
Exploration can also be facilitated through the use of carefully selected consultants. A trained third party can assist staff to consider paths of organizational exploration that would otherwise not be taken. Experts in such areas as compensation planning, organizational development or specific program areas can foster ideas and areas of opportunity.
At the management level, opportunity seeking should be stressed just as much as, if not more than, problem solving. Not all staff members are as capable of identifying opportunities as others, but employees can learn to be more creative through practice, support and encouragement.
Exploration should concern itself not only with the operations of the present but with the possibilities of the future. The anticipation of and concern for the future rest primarily with the most senior management staff. In fact, Elliott Jaques, writing in Requisite Organization, suggests that employees should be paid on the basis of their responsibilities for the future. Because top management staff members are responsible for the greatest timelines, they would be paid the most. It would be interesting to survey corporate executives and determine their time frames of concern. The time spans, one hopes, extend past tomorrow and the end of the fiscal year.