by CIO Staff

Managing by Inclusion

Nov 22, 20046 mins
IT Leadership

The man enters the tiny office and the manager behind the desk jumps with a start. You can tell from his expression that the visitor is his big boss. This scene is from a commercial, but it is played for real thousands of times in offices small and large across our country.

What happens next is not so ordinary. The boss reads a letter from the CEO commending the manager for his timely responsiveness to a pressing issue. The boss says good work and leaves. Again, what happens next is even less common. The manager calls his people together; it is obvious he wants to share the good news and thank them. He then calls down to the UPS driver and asks him to the impromptu meeting. Aside from the obvious commercial point that UPS saved the day, what the manager is demonstrating is “management by inclusion.”

Bringing Others into the Picture

Managers are under the gun. As their tasks mount, they seem more and more like traffic coordinators, or paper shufflers to be less kind, delegating assignments as fast as they fly onto the desk or into the e-mail inbox. There is so much to do that communication is reduced to phrases such as “do this,” “call her” or my favorite, “just get it done.”

Not unexpectedly the manager is stretched tighter than a drum skin and feels just as beaten. There is no use appealing to a higher boss; she may be equally challenged, if not more so. An obvious solution would be to hire more help or outsource more tasks, but in today’s economic reality (which honestly never really changes), it is up to the manager to get it done — on time and on budget.

There is an alternative — leverage the talents and skills of your people. In other words, manage by including everyone. When you manage in this way, you are involving people in the process and inviting them to collaborate. Communications can facilitate inclusion and help to build stronger working relationships.

Here are some suggestions:

Set the ground rules. Managing by inclusion does not occur by accident; it happens by design. That means it is up to managers to let people know that they value ideas from others. More importantly, they must enable employees to feel secure in voicing opinions contrary to the manager’s.

Airing dissenting points serves as a counterweight to groupthink, that a cooperative thought process that leads into tunnels where the light is an oncoming train. Managers foster inclusion through words, but they demonstrate it more by actions. They welcome ideas. They invite dissenting points of view. They engage in debate and banter. They include alternate ideas in the planning process. And they keep coming back for more.

Solicit input. On some teams, getting ideas from people is as simple as asking for a show of hands or tossing a question to a team meeting. The ideas will burst into the air like popcorn in popper. That’s a tribute to a manager who has made it safe for his people to voice ideas, both in agreement and non-agreement to the manager’s own approaches.

While this might more easily occur in marketing and sales organizations, it can be more difficult when it comes to groups that do not feel comfortable speaking aloud in groups, such as engineering and IT professionals. Other times the reticence is cultural. In Asia, subordinates never challenge their bosses. This situation does not let managers off the hook; it simply challenges them to find other ways to communicate. Such techniques can range from soliciting via e-mail or an electronic and anonymous suggestion box. Distributing slips of paper at meetings and asking for everyone to write down something for discussion is a tried-and-true alternative.

Include suppliers. Just as in the UPS commercial, your trusted vendors are really part of your team. Organizational behavior experts coined the term “virtual team” a decade ago to cover such people. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I must reveal that as a consultant I have been a part of many virtual teams. Those that work the best are where manager, employees and virtual employees collaborate and coordinate. The focus is on the work; the responsibility demands that it be done correctly. Employees, real or virtual, can do the assignment if they are granted the authority to do so.

Act with information not consensus. As much as any manager wants to have everyone on his team fully onboard, reality dictates that this will not always occur. Or if it does, the manager is not really leading by inclusion. The manager may want to solicit ideas, of course, but the ultimate “go or no go” must come from the manager. Everyone may not agree, but they appreciate being asked and included. People expect decisiveness in their leaders. When you manage this way, you stand a better chance of building consensus down the line for bigger challenges.

Taking a Stand-up Position

Now, as much as you want to strive for managing by inclusion there are times when you must act alone. Such occasions may result from crisis, or they may result from the need to take a stand. This is called leadership. For example, if you are the CIO and you believe passionately in the need for the installation of a CRM system, you need to stand up for it. Assemble your team to get the facts and help you make the case with plenty of benefits. But when it comes time to make the pitch, you need to take the lead. It’s perfectly fine to include your people as supporters, but you need to be front and center, especially if the move is controversial or more likely met with budgetary resistance.

And there is one other time to stand alone — to take the heat. When a team fails, it is the manager’s responsibility. While individual members may not have pulled their weight, it is the manager’s challenge to get the job done somehow some way. Yet some managers think that by pointing fingers at others, they will make themselves look better. Big mistake! A manager who confronts his boss and says, “Not my fault,” comes across as disengaged, not someone to be entrusted any more authority. What this behavior does is make managers look small, petty and shortsighted.

Managing by inclusion does something more than get the work done the right way. It makes employees feel part of something larger than themselves. By acting as a team, they create energy and momentum for the task at hand. And, over time, they develop collaborative habits that facilitate their strengths, shore up their weaknesses and make the group more productive.

Managers who push for inclusion are those who get things done the right way and in the process make people feel better about the work and themselves. When this occurs management by inclusion really is better called genuine leadership. Can you ask for much more?

November 2004