Making everyone matter

Many years ago, in the mid 1990s, I remember walking through Asda House in Leeds and seeing a box labelled “Tell Archie”. The Asda colleagues told me that it was one of their new CEO’s latest initiatives. The idea was that anybody in the organisation could put in an idea and the CEO would then read them. He would then take forward the best ideas. I don’t know what impact those ideas had, but the message it sent to everyone in the business was “You matter. Your ideas count”. It was part of a strategy that helped that CEO, Archie Norman, turn around what was a near bankrupt business and turn it into the second largest supermarket in the UK.

Ideas from the front line CAN help. One of my oldest friends is a pharmacist in the NHS, working on geriatric wards. She tells me how everyone on the ward is encouraged to come forward with improvement ideas, as part of their culture change initiative. One cleaner made a suggestion on changing the patient care routine that had a major impact on the number of patient falls. Yet so often organisations fail to listen to the voices of those on the front line, who see problems on a daily basis, and can also see the solutions.

The impact of being asked

When I worked as a training solutions designer for different organisations I knew that spending time on the front line wasn’t just about collecting information. We were also getting buy-in for what we were doing. Because if people feel involved and contribute to a change or training initiative from the start, then they feel that they own it, which means less resistance down the line.

We humans need to feel part of something. A couple of years ago on a course I specifically asked another participant if she would partner me on a particular assessment. She seemed surprised but elated that I had asked her. She then went on to tell me how she had a real thing about people not asking her. This stemmed from her school-days, when she never got picked for the netball team.

When someone asks us to join in, then our Ego feels safe. If we feel excluded then the Ego senses danger and all hell can then break loose.

Yet most organisations operate in a way that excludes people. In my work with sales and marketing people I so often find that they don’t talk to one another. Sometimes they seem to discourage each other from communicating, which does nothing for corporate efficiency. People use information as a source of power, which is why so many leadership teams make decisions behind closed doors. Then they wonder why they struggle to implement those decisions. Particularly if the leadership team are then sending the message that everyone else needs to change. 

The power of different perspectives

Inclusion means gathering different perspectives. It involves sharing information. People get to know one another and each other’s needs, which means they are in a better place to support each other. And sometimes the best insights can come from the most unlikely places.

I met a guy on a course recently who struggled sometimes to articulate what he wanted to say. He and I paired up for a whole day. I initially thought: what will he teach me? But something in me told me that I could learn lots from him. As we sat together he made a sudden observation about the women in my family being good with their hands. I did a double-take; my maternal female relatives are either very good cooks, artists or seamstresses. For some reason this insight resonated with me on a very deep level. Yet I could so easily have chosen to dismiss this guy. Staying open and receptive to what he could offer me brought me a great gift in return.

So when you look around you at the people you work with think to yourself; am I excluding them or including them? Am I valuing them for the different perspectives that they bring? How are you going to bring people on board on your change project? The more you can include them in the decisions that are being made the more likely they are to embrace the change.