Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Don’t Overlook the Quiet Voices in the Room

This is the time of year when many of us start thinking about brainstorming and drilling down into our organizational strengths and weaknesses. We look closely at our clients and customers to see which ones are most profitable, and which ones are sucking the life and energy out of us. We look at who we’d like to have on our client list and ask ourselves if we have the financial, technology and people resources to get those ideal clients—and keep ‘em happy. Makes sense, right?

If you have doubts about your people, think twice before casting your line into the outside talent pool. You’ll be tying up countless hours of staff time as you vet, argue, interview and recruit new talent that may or may not work out. Before looking outside, ask yourself  how well you really know the team you already have in place. Doesn’t matter if you’ve got two people or two thousand people on your org chart. Chances are you may not be aware of everything they bring to the table—especially the quieter ones.

The loudest aren’t the brightest

Phil Gilbert’s recent piece
Hearing Every Voice in the Room got me thinking about how often the introverts--the serious, quiet contemplators who actually think first before shouting out their ideas and opinions. They’re the ones who often have the best ideas, but tend to get overlooked when organizations or all sizes are looking for fresh ideas. It doesn’t matter if it’s a quick coffee room conversation or a formal offsite brainstorming session—the squeakiest wheels tend to get the organizational grease. Unfortunately, that’s another form or organizational complacency and rarely leads to innovation. Why? “Because team dynamics can easily get in the way of good ideas and the loudest voice often wins,” observed Gilbert.
“There’s always someone who dominates the conversation and others who defer to that person out of frustration—or worse, complacency,” wrote Gilbert a general manager of IBM Design. But the article reminded me of a conversation I had last week with Frank Rudd, new president of the Florida Society of Association Executives (FSAE), a 1,000 member organization with six full-time staff. Rudd is spearheading FSAE’s merger with another organization and he told me of the first things he did when he came on board was ask everyone at the combined organization—regardless of their position—to revisit all of FSAE’s programs and services and assess whether those programs were really things members wanted or were just continuing out of habit.

“One of the first things organizations can do is keep doing things the same way, just because that’s how it’s always been done in the past,” Rudd noted. He looked to see where each member of his team (and army of volunteers) could be best deployed—and not a single person at either organization lost their job during the merger. On Day One, Rudd replaced the automated voice mail system with a live human operator and soon he and his team began driving around the state and to hand deliver welcome packages to all the new members they’ve acquired during the merger. That’s right. Hand deliver! Don’t think that approach helps you get to know your stakeholders and your staff?

At Gilbert’s division at IBM, they focus on two things
: (a) getting everyone to contribute and (b) letting everyone’s contributions be heard. They start with stacking up sticky notes filled with ideas onto a whiteboard. Everyone is free to post or “popcorn” in IBM-speak until the ideas slow to a dribble. Then the team leader groups the sticky notes into overlapping and logical area. That, he said is how you go from thinking about “what’s not possible, to thinking about what’s possible,” wrote Gilbert. Because everyone has buy-in.


If you, or a talented but quiet person on your staff is afraid to step up and champion ideas, we recommend Susan Caine’s book “Quiet-The Power of Introverts.” She’s also a terrific speaker for your events. A former corporate lawyer and negotiation specialist, Cain said that when it comes to adapting to change, it’s important to understand that the introverts on your team aren’t “lesser contributors or less successful in social interaction.” Instead, they process knowledge and interact with their surroundings in a quieter way. “They tend to be passionate, but somewhat shy and value periods of solitude which allow them to be [optimally] creative,” she said.

Food for thought, especially when you’re “popcorning.”

Our blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.



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