Monday, December 24, 2007

Find out what the "followers" think using story-gathering

I shied away from the upcoming book called "Followership" by Barbara Kellerman because I recoiled from the title, I think. I picture numbed souls trooping behind some charismatic leader, pointing the way to a promised land of market leadership. Which never arrives.

I've felt like those followers from time to time. And one of those leaders, as well.

But as described in today's Wall Street Journal, in an article by George Anders, I'm more intrigued by the book. I agree, for one thing, that big companies grow static because the rank-and-file (a better term than followers? I don't know) have lost heart. They come for the paycheck, try to stay under the radar so when job cuts happen, they get overlooked. Etc.

So, from that perspective, energizing the rank-and-file has a lot of potential to improve companies. It can't replace true leadership (see previous post), but combining a good strategy, competent leadership and an engaged and motivated workforce can create a world-beating company.

But how to engage the workforce? The Journal article summarizes one big problem:

"Look at why big companies die," says Shari Ballard, Best Buy's executive vice president, retail channel. "They implode on themselves. They create all these systems and processes -- and then end up with a very small percentage of people who are supposed to solve complex problems, while the other 98% of people just execute.

Bingo. In trying to get more production from their staffs, companies simply deploy another system. Systems aren't going to get it done. Even conducting and acting on surveys (a favorite tool discussed in the article) are hopelessly reductive. HP is on the right track, holding one-on-one interviews with employees to get their candid feedback.

How about using storytelling? Gathering groups of people into anecdote circles, collecting their stories, looking at all of them and drawing out the major themes--that will allow the deep understanding and wisdom of the rank-and-file to emerge.

Then you can do something to improve the employees' ability to make a difference. And when they realize they've actually been listened to--well, that's motivating.

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Sean said...

Gathering the folks into a circle for anecdote time is a poor way to gather stories. There are many more effective ways to recognize both the stories past and stories in the moment in organizational storytelling. It's ongoing, it's intentional and it's organic. "Come up with a story now please." creates few real stories. It's a start, but only a beginner process at the very least.

John Caddell said...

Sean, thanks for commenting. Given that you're not impressed with anecdote circles, do you care to share methods that you find more effective?

Regards, John

San Diego Walker said...

Kellerman's book "Followership" is really good. I recommend it!