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Connecting people with similar beliefs, motivations, or interests across a wide geographic area, even globally, is the business and leadership challenge of today. Building trust between all members of this community, from the front office to your customers or constituents, is difficult, but necessary in order to stay relevant.
Trust is at the core of a decentralized system. Simply put, one needs to know that someone working in another location, or without direct oversight, will complete whatever they say they will do and take responsibility for it. When people are given the space to create and solve problems on their own, then the expectation is that they will do just that.
Getting to the point where you can trust others with important business decisions can take time and shouldn’t be something taken lightly. When a company is built upon a culture of trust there is often enough redundancy within the organization to keep people from going to far astray. People need to be looking out for others–in doing so they create a system where it is hard to fail.
Leadership and oversight of people working in a decentralized company works well when there is a clear vision for the future and a set of values to support it. Employees and other members of the system need to know what you stand for, and this will, in turn, guide them as they make their own decisions about what’s best for their customers.
Maintaining a dialogue with your customers will enable you and your business to evolve as your customer’s interests and needs change over time. What prevents people from listening to their customers? Ego, “it’s not a priority”, or “a customer is not always right attitude” is what I frequently see.
The establishment of a feedback loop that connects you, your employees, and your customers is the most effective way to connect all aspects of your business. Providing a forum or space where thoughts and ideas can be shared openly is a critical part of building a learning organization.
Yes, it takes time and it may seem like a waste of time from the outside, but it satisfies the basic human need of wanting to be heard. If you take the time to listen to someone, then you may have just gain a follower for life.
When information flows unencumbered between people in a decentralized organization, then it is easier to know what is happening in the various parts of your company. The role of the leader in this situation is to remove barriers to progress so that people can focus specifically on getting work done. Communication needs to flow freely in all directions.
A loosely organized, but tightly focused group of people can be very effective and it’s not unlike what you see in corporate research and development offices, military special forces, and companies that are spread over a large geographic area. Various digital tools now exist that make it very easy for people to stay in touch and collaborate on projects.
When done well, people get used to working in a way where they feel appreciated and respected and, most importantly, they feel that they are able to express themselves creatively through their work. Building a culture of creative problem solving starts with giving people room to make their own decisions–and being there to assist when they do need guidance. When this system is working well, this enables your entire team to be very adaptable, flexible, and ready for any kind of problem that may come their way.
A networked culture of creative problem solvers sounds like a mouthful, but this what leaders now have at their disposal. The challenge for leaders and managers is to figure out how to harness their power–and it starts with trust.