A recent conversation with a corporate executive triggered this question. The person suggested that people at the grassroots didn’t know enough about the organisation’s strategy so the ideas they propose are a non-starter. In the moment, I felt viscerally that the person lacked self-awareness yet had an oversized ego, had forgotten the two primary facets* of their job. I want to explore this person’s perspective, and build their argument for that statement.
- The organisation (the executive leadership specifically) is grappling with the changes in the marketplace. There are multiple dimensions to the problem. For fast response, a small group of highly qualified management professionals are working hard on understanding the problem. People at the grassroots are unaware of these multi-dimensional problems. Therefore any ideas they have, while important to them, may not be relevant to the problem
- Good ideas do come from the grassroots, but they do not take an enterprise view of their implications. You need a much higher level perspective, and that awareness is only accessible to senior execs. It is impossible to convey these implications, so staff have to trust executive judgement on this.
- Being an executive who has deep history of the technical details, and the bird-eye view of the enterprise problem, I am aware of the problems that this idea will create for the rest of the system. Again, staff have to trust my judgement because I have got this right on multiple occasions previously. I don’t have the time to explain this at length to every person, and will exercise my decision-making authority.
Implicit: (Of course I can never know this for sure so entirely my assumptions)
- There’s no evidence that this idea is workable. The risk is way too much to accept.
- The evidence that is provided goes counter to my prior experience.
- If the idea works, it will make someone else look good
- If I have not objected to the idea in the first instance, and the idea fails, my credibility among my peers will be diminished
- This is not my idea
- This is your idea and I don’t like you/your higher-ups etc
- There are other ways this can be done
- Our competitors will use this to their advantage
Doing this exercise is illuminating – there are more implicit than explicit arguments that I can think of. If I asked the person how much of my list is valid, would I get an honest answer? Would the answer be different in a different circumstance?
* My current belief is that an exec needs to: a. articulate the org strategy clearly so that the experts – the people actually doing the job – knew what they were aiming at; and b. use their hierarchical heft to negotiate the removal of obstacles in the path of the experts.