Freedom FROM versus Freedom TO...

Thomas L Friedman in today's New York Times August 24, 2014 writes that there is a difference between “Freedom from” and “Freedom to.” In a work situation “Freedom from” bosses that are jerks and oppressive working conditions is a given in most parts of the modern world.

The more rare, and in fact more valuable to the worker Freedom desire is to have “Freedom to” think, create, speak your mind, belong to a mission that matters.

At a meeting of senior executives a month ago I explained that core to Innovation Engineering is enabling innovation by everyone, everywhere, everyday.

To my shock, one of the leaders interrupted me and asked “Doug are you sure this is a good idea?  If we empower them it could cause chaos for us. We don’t pay them to create we pay them to do.”

Short Pause — as I sit here, reviewing the quote from my notes of the day and typing it onto the screen,  I can feel the anger I felt at that moment rise up within me.  At the time, I took a deep breath and remembering the words of Dr. Deming…. “How could they know…”   So with the Dr.’s words ringing in my ears I set about the task of  teaching the executive.

I explained that giving freedom to think, create and innovate to the workers does not reduce the power or importance of the leadership team.  Within the Innovation Engineering Operating System it actually multiples the importance of leadership 100x.

In the old way of managing, leadership’s job is to set objectives.  It’s the workers job to work very, very hard to reach the objectives. When they do management rewards them - when they don’t management punishes them.

In the new way of managing, leadership’s job is to set the direction for their organization, division or department.  They do this through a process we call Strategy Activation - where they translate their strategic vision into very clear what we call Blue Cards for the workers.

Blue Cards provide what the military calls the “Commanders Intent” they include a narrative as to why the mission is VERY important to the organization with a specific emphasis on why it’s VERY important.   It includes identification of what level of innovation is requested (CORE versus LEAP) the timing (short versus long term) as well as strategic boundaries, tactical constraints and idea starters.  The goal is to have the Blue Card so clear that if the workers were to receive no further communication they would no with certainty what the leadership intended.

With the what and why of the strategic mission clearly defined it is then left to the workers - those closest to the work/customer - to identify the how.  In the case of Innovation Engineering this is the Yellow Card.

Importantly, the leadership has a dual focus both inside and outside the organization.

For outside the organization the leadership authors VIO Blue Cards.  These are Very Important Opportunities with new or current customers.  These are the classic opportunities to improve our offerings, beat a competitive offering, or to create new products or services.

For inside the organization the leadership authors VIS Blue Cards.  These are Very Important System challenges for how we work as an organization.  In place of beating the workers to hit higher sales numbers, lower costs, improve customers services is a focus on engaging the workers in the process of improving the system for sales, cost, customer service.  It is only by improving the system through smarter training, techniques and tools that we can achieve sustainable improvement.

As I outlined a new way of managing their company I sensed a shift in the room of executives.  It helped when I gave a bit of a rant, “By empowering the workers you multiply your impact. You will turn your strategy into action.  You will spend your days excited about what they are creating instead of spending it being inspector of objectives.  In effect, you will get to do leadership the way you dreamed you would instead of how it’s ended up”

Ok, so maybe I went a little over the top.  I figured it was a better than blowing up at them.

In the end there was skepticism as it was different from what they learned in business school and what they practiced.  However, given that it was clear the current path for the business was not sustainable they agreed to give it a test.  And the journey begins with this organization.

The result will be that workers will be given the FREEDOM TO think, create, become a part of the organization's mission.  I know, with certainty that as Dr. Deming taught, when the workers are given freedom to think great things will happen.

Success is guaranteed!

Rock & Roll

Doug