Hey, Look! Free Brains!

Many companies use the phrase, “people are our greatest asset.” It is a fine sentiment. Despite the common use of that statement, senior management is often suspicious of their greatest asset.  That suspicion can turn into fear and drag a company to a slow and unimaginative demise.

Polishing an Idea

Why would top managers be afraid of the rank of and file?  It’s easy to speculate on that for a long while with phrases that will end-up sounding like psychobabble, but the crux of the matter is that making use of the average worker can be a lot of work.  This is especially true if you really think of him or her as a valuable asset who works hard and can contribute by sharing his or her thoughts about the company’s processes.  Making good use of the skills and ideas that employees bring takes a great deal of effort. It also means that the person or people in power might have to work differently.  That can be an overwhelming idea – one that can scare the heck out of many.

But it seems wasteful and shortsighted to let a company’s reserve of brainpower lie dormant, though it can feel like a quagmire to start asking employees what they think of current systems or processes. Managers may end-up with a lot of redundant information or may have to hear complaints that they don’t want to deal with. That’s understandable.  But if you don’t ask what employees think, you never know where in your company someone has come-up with great idea that could make things better.

And isn’t that what building a business is about? Shouldn’t it be that a business improves and becomes more profitable and develops more competent talent because it is constantly learning, because it is constantly trying to become better and out-pace its competition and itself?

Yes, I know that many companies are not like that.  Many companies say that people are their greatest asset, but don’t really believe it.  Many companies don’t want to think about the fact that there is a wealth of information and good ideas at their disposal in their employees.  Many companies just want to carry on with the way they have always done things and hope for the best.  That’s fine.  While those companies are scared of the possibility of tapping the ideas and insights of their employees, everyone else can get ahead by having the courage to make use of what most businesses miss: that with every pair of hands, you get a free brain.[1]

[1] I got this sentence from Jack Stack, founder and CEO of SRC Holdings and organizing force behind the Great Game of Business, a concept that champions Open Book Management.

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