The Key To Innovation? Release Control

17 March, 2017 / Articles
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When asked this question, the garment worker faces a quandary. In fact, verbal harassment is the least of his concerns—but the risk of the boss overhearing his complaint is just not worth it. Ultimately the auditor, sent by a multinational corporation to report on working conditions, will note the worker’s response. No. The worker will respond no, as well, to questions about 16 hour workdays and even child labor. None of his answers are true, but they are the only one the worker feels he can make to protect his own job and safety.

Unfortunately, these types of social interviews are standard for managing clothing supply chains on behalf of corporate social responsibility initiatives. Flaws in this system, like the one described above, prevent an accurate picture of working conditions for laborers, creating risk for both the workers and the company. A retailer’s known supply chain is vast and complex, even before including the unknown number of subcontractors, yet this system prevails.

Organizations face transformation through innovation, acquisitions or opening new offices. But more employees, offices and remote teams can lead to additional physical silos and barriers. Further, innovations that lead to new channels or customers can also create a need for rapid internal transformation. As communication channels increase, organizations risk greater miscommunication or even a complete lack of communication, like in the example of the garment worker.

How do we maintain control as complexity and connectivity increase during times of growth and transformation?

Traditional leadership styles are struggling to match the pace of change. To maintain control, try a counter-intuitive perspective: Release control. Consider inherent challenges to be assets. More employees and rapid transformation create a treasure chest of knowledge that can be accessed across a business. As businesses grow, they must take advantage of increasing transparency and decentralizing control to empower people and ideas.

Transparency is crucial for a large or evolving business. It’s necessary for everyone in the organization, including leadership. It can empower individuals to benefit from existing expertise, reduce risks, improve schedules and save budgets. And for leaders, transparency provides better insight into business activity.

Laborlink, a project of the non-profit Good World Solutions, looked at a flawed supply chain audit process and saw opportunity. They knew that each worker could supply a wealth of information to the retailer, but they also knew that retailers didn’t have a way to access that information. What did each worker have? A cell phone. So, Laborlink created an anonymous hotline for workers to report working conditions on their own time and not just once a year. A similar company, LaborVoices, is testing features that asks workers to report their pay and provides information about factories with the best working conditions.

These tools are allowing businesses unprecedented visibility into their supply chains and the power to make earlier course corrections with risky suppliers. Additionally, workers will have more control over their safety and livelihood, a positive direction for the retailer’s corporate social responsibility.

Transparency benefits from size through greater use of employee knowledge and earlier insight into potential risks and opportunities.

It also lays the groundwork for a decentralized decision making approach, which increases employee engagement and efficiency. In most businesses, decision-making power gradually increases up the hierarchy, creating bottlenecks. Decision making happens either through email or during meetings, delaying progress. On the other hand, transparency—releasing control and trusting talent—allows for agile and smart decision making.

NASA is the perfect example. Previously, engineers who were stumped could spend a lot of time trying to identify the right expert within the organization. It required significant time commitments: the engineer was forced to peruse thousands of dense pages from a database or to make multiple phone calls and emails, before a decision could take place.

As NASA’s chief knowledge architect, David Meza is responsible for making over 50 years worth of NASA’s experience usable any time and place an engineer might need it. Meza removed the traditional barriers to access by creating a tool that visually mapped and clustered NASA’s lessons learned in natural groupings. This new tool gave engineers decentralized access to information, allowing them to move more quickly and save time. The tool also allowed engineers to see the latest related issues and findings, which they would not have known to search or ask for help on, possibly preventing fatal errors.

Decentralizing decision making capitalizes on size and transformation to ensure efficient use of resources, resulting in higher team engagement, rapid prototyping of ideas and agile decision making. It also frees up leadership to make important strategic and long-term decisions.

As your organization grows, implement transparency and decentralized decision-making to take advantage of its increasing complexity and connectivity. Lay the groundwork for transparency by using big data and technology to gain and share access to:

  • The wealth of knowledge within your business, including identifying experts and sharing lessons learned.
  • The measurements of your business processes and results. Creating universal access to a dashboard, for example, provides insights to team members at all levels and increases trust.

To decentralize decisions, consider categorizing them differently:

  • Leaders should focus on strategic decisions that are generally infrequent, require a long-term commitment and may benefit from economies of scale.
  • Teams should make decisions on issues that occur frequently, are time critical and require their specific expertise and knowledge.

Transform your organization into one that releases control and seeks transparency. Doing this will lead to greater business agility, team engagement and everyday innovation, allowing leaders the time to focus on strategic decisions.

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.

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