Why your electrical distributorship needs leaders and employees who are willing to go out on a limb, take a chance, and even play with fire once in a while.
In the first part of this 3-part series, we discussed how to manage your managers and cultivate younger workers in a way that keeps them engaged, happy, and productive.
We’re all attracted to people who think and act like we do. It’s just human nature and in most cases, it makes sense. That’s because being around like-minded individuals generates the least amount of friction and virtually ensures that ideas are vetted, discarded, and implemented quickly and with the least amount of pain.
These personal preferences usually transfer over into the business world, where companies tend to hire and cultivate like-minded individuals who can push their agendas, boost their performance, and help them get to the next level.
But what happens when someone throws a wrench into those plans and tries to tip the scales a bit by thinking more innovatively, trying out untested strategies, or venturing into an area that others may view as being “risky?” While any of these scenarios may scare the pants off the typical distribution firm owner, it’s actually where the magic happens.
“It’s our natural tendency as human beings to surround ourselves with people that agree with us, and dismiss those who don’t,” says Dov Baron, author of Fiercely Loyal: How High Performing Companies Develop and Retain Top Talent, speaker, and president of consulting firm Full Monty Leadership in British Columbia.
“That becomes a great challenge in both business and leadership, because if you only surround yourself with people who think like you—and with information that you believe,” Baron points out, “then you won’t ever expand.”
Promoting Cognitive Diversity
In recent years, companies have been moving away from hiring rule-following, heads-down employees and looking for more people who are willing to take matters into their own hands and explore new options. “Often to our own disadvantage in the modern era, when people are afraid they avoid taking risks,” Steven Parker points out in Building a Risk-Taking Culture: Why is it necessary for company innovation? “Yet, we all know that every great innovation — big or small — absolutely involves some level of risk.”
The key to inspiring innovation lies in fostering a company culture where risk-taking is not just accepted, Parker adds, but also encouraged. “Employees have to feel safe enough to not just vent ideas amongst fellow team members, but also readily share them with leadership.”
And while distributors may have to re-engineer their thinking to make this happen, the out-of-the-box thinking, creative genius, and improved decision-making that comes from hiring risk takers can completely reenergize even the most stagnant of companies. “Leaders are being called upon to create and grow more diverse organizations, and that starts with cognitive diversity,” says Baron. “Or, hiring people who don’t think the way we do.”
Who’s Your Uber?
Corporate cultures don’t change overnight, but that doesn’t mean electrical distributors can’t take baby steps in the right direction. To start infusing more innovation and risk-taking in your company’s culture, ask yourself this question: Who is the Uber of my industry? In other words, what one company is taking charge and disrupting age-old business models?
“If you don’t know the answer to that question, then you’ve got one of two choices,” Baron says. “Either wait for them to arrive and crush you, or become the Uber of your industry.”
If Plan B sounds like a better choice than being crushed, Baron says the best starting point is to simply invite cognitive thinking into the fold. This is particularly important for distributorships that have been in business for a long time, and that have already formed their own bias and gotten comfortable with their business approaches. “You need to start inviting people in,” says Baron, “who don’t see things the same way you do.”
An Outside Viewpoint
Faisal Hoque, founder of Shadoka, which develops accelerators and technology solutions for sustainable growth, and author of Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation, and Sustainability, knows what it takes to innovate and disrupt. Both require a degree of discomfort, he admits, but usually wind up paying off in the end.
“The bottom line is that if you’re not challenged and uncomfortable, you’ll never think of anything new or different,” Hoque says. “And when you’re not thinking of anything new or different, you fall behind and your competition takes over. It’s just the natural evolution and natural order in business, and in life in general.”
To buck this trend, Hoque says distributors need to give risk takers a place to stretch and grow, and to bring their innovative ideas to the table without judgment or fear of rejection. Give them the flexibility to come up with new ideas, both from the competitive and the creative points of view.
The work doesn’t stop once these risk takers are onboard, Hoque notes, because diverse thinkers need guidelines and parameters to work with. For example, a company making widgets that go into automobiles may be encouraged by a risk taker who decides it’s time to make a whole new car from the ground up. Because that may not be feasible, it’s up to the company and its managers to help that big-idea guy channel his vision into a more workable idea.
“Give them guidelines while at the same time processing that creativity in a very actionable, useful way,” Hoque advises. “Be both the guardrail and the encourager of creativity that results in something tangible, otherwise it’ll be complete trash—but don’t stifle them with too much process. It really is a fine line.”
Thinking Out of the Box
When companies do hire risk takers who don’t just “go with the flow,” Baron says it can be a lot like removing a blindfold. Getting there isn’t always easy, he admits, mainly due to yet another natural human tendency: resistance to change. To overcome this issue, Baron says distributors should acknowledge that fact that there is going to be resistance, and get used to listening to those who don’t necessarily agree with them.
Using Kodak as an example, Baron says the company actually had cognitive diversity—namely in the form of an engineer who designed the very first digital camera—but chose not to listen to it or encourage it. As a result, this Fortune 10 company virtually disappeared due to its lack of innovation.
“This guy worked for Kodak, but the company dismissed his idea because his thinking did not align with theirs,” Baron says. To avoid this trap, he tells companies to allow themselves to listen to the people who have diverse voices. And remember that the success you’re after probably doesn’t exist within your own comfort zone (or you’d already be benefitting from it), nor does it reside within your “thinking” or “belief” zones. “To broaden out our thinking and really take things to the next level,” says Baron, “we really have to be expansive.”
In the final segment of this 3-part article series, we’ll look at how electrical distributors can cultivate and support their existing workforces in a way that not only keeps them onboard, but that also helps veteran managers and supervisors attract and retain more millennial employees.Tagged with best practices, culture