Photo by Hunters Race
David Marquet** was speaking in a post on The Harvard Business Review about empowerment programs, and why they just don’t work, when he said, “ You can’t implement a bottom up concept in a top down way.” he goes on to further explain that if your employees don’t want added responsibility, if they don’t want to be empowered, trying to force it with a command from a superior won’t work.
I’d like to take this idea one step further, and say that when your employees don’t feel like they can be empowered, they won’t accept an empowerment program, because it doesn’t feel genuine. Allow me to take a step back and explain.
Working for and with both American and Scandinavian companies, I’ve noticed one major difference. It’s not in the mission statements, the motivation of the workforce, or the perks given (although I am convinced that we need to adopt the Fika). It’s the physical organization structure of the different companies that greatly differs.
American companies are often based on a vertical hierarchy, where one person or a board of people are in charge, and then there follows a series of levels, of decreasing authority and responsibility. This creates the top down structure to which Marquet was referring. And it works. Employees have very clearly defined roles and all contribute to the success of the organization. However it’s not very empowering.
You are a customer service representative for a large company. Every day, you speak directly with customers and help to address their issues. Over time you identify a common theme across a large number of service issues and develop a great idea, that if implemented, could solve a large portion of issues. This would make customers much happier. So you submit the idea to your manager, who has to submit it to their department head, who then has to submit it to their boss and so on. Very quickly, you the owner of the idea, become very far removed from it. Maybe along the way the person who submitted the idea get’s lost, or the idea loses steam and never makes it to the appropriate decision maker and fizzles out.
Now let’s look at a Scandinavian company, which is structured much more…horizontally. While team members serve different roles, and there are varying levels of responsibility and authority in these companies, an effort is made to all work together and all ideas are submitted to the team rather than funneled up through a network of individuals. Using the same example, a customer service representative who identifies a common trend across reported issues, and identifies a potential solution would be able to submit the idea not to a supervisor, but to a team. The individual team members can provide feedback and help to add to the idea, until it becomes an actionable solution.
This second solution is much more agile, and allows for innovation to happen much more organically, and ultimately more quickly. This isn’t to say that American companies are all hierarchical, or that none of these hierarchical companies foster a culture of innovation.
Idea Hunt was built around this Scandinavian, group innovation concept, where all ideas are submitted to a group or team of people, to collaborate and co-create innovative concepts, products, services, and more, to grow and succeed in a faster, more agile way.
**David Marquet is the former commander of the nuclear submarine, the USS Santa Fe, and author of Turn The Ship Around, a Fortune’s Best Business Book.