My Employees’ Ideas Aren’t Good – Is It So Bad to Impose My Own from the Top Down?

We’ll start our 2023 planning soon. In the past I’ve sought input from staff, but honestly, they so rarely come up with useful ideas. And it’s time-consuming ensuring everyone feels heard. Is it really such a downer to simply impose our ideas top down?

It’s true that brilliant individuals will come up with more creative ideas than any “design by committee” approach, but individuals can also come up with the worst ideas. The real wisdom of crowds is that they will weed out the terrible ideas (see Putin and “Let’s invade Ukraine”). It helps, too, to keep in mind some of the dynamics of group situations when planning: One is that groups tend to be only as smart as their most confident member. When someone, usually the boss, argues forcefully for something, the rest of the crowd will fall into line (Putin again). The bestselling organizational psychologist Adam Grant thus suggests creating a schedule of intermittent collaboration, where you balance time working separately and together with your teams, with initial ideas proposed in writing to be winnowed down to a short list. As the strong leader you no doubt are, you will benefit from exposure to the best out-of-the-box thinking of the individual mind as well as thoughts about the things that could go wrong — without too much of the rambling brainstorming.

I’d like to propose a collaborative marketing activity with another small business in our town. How do I go about it?

Begin by introducing yourself and your business in an email and explain what you have in common and how you believe you could complement each other. Then, articulate your vision for the collaboration. What is the purpose of this partnership? Who is the target customer? What kind of activity did you have in mind, and perhaps most importantly, how will each business benefit? There’s no need to be too specific in your initial contact — you are selling a vision of mutual success. When you get into the details and the division of labor and who will contribute what, then it’s wise to get very detailed and have everything written down. Remember, the goal should be for an arrangement that allows each party to play to its strengths, to work with business leaders in your local community, to partner with those who share your values, and to be open to new ideas.

What’s the best way to address someone (a customer, job applicant, sales rep) with a name you don’t know how to pronounce?

It’s good that you’re asking. While it might seem like a relatively minor issue, a viral post on LinkedIn revealed how people with non-Western names often feel excluded and devalued when people mispronounce their name. The author of that piece, Damneet Kaur, says his preference is that you just ask for the correct pronunciation before you attempt to say it. Note that it’s a good idea to try to do your homework beforehand. LinkedIn offers a feature that enables users to click on a person’s name and hear them pronouncing it. There are also sites like PronounceNames, which allow users to type in a name and access a database of recordings.

Want to see your questions featured in this department? Send your emails to: ask@signsofthetimes.com

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