Mobilizing Edgy Expertise in Times of Market Disruption
In these unprecedented times when most businesses are immobilized, business leaders face the challenge of becoming disconnected from customers, suppliers and employees sequestered in their homes. Market opportunities have frozen. To survive, leaders must change their way of thinking. Instead of finding opportunities in what were formally viable business channels, they must investigate new, unchartered territory.
And yes, employees can help leaders with this.
Each individual staff member represents a multidimensional stockpile of expertise and interests, which have been built prior to or outside of their current work. For example, the person working as an IT consultant may also have been a Marines veteran with specialization in intelligence and extensive social capital across veteran-based organizations. An employee working in the procurement department may have past experience in the emerging economy of constant disruptions. Still another employee has raised three homeschooled children with regular online interactions. Their current employer may not have been aware of the broader expertise they can bring.
Tapping into employees’ unused qualifications could open up innovative new practices that could make a difference in remaining afloat through this time of crisis, or even new opportunities for being relevant and connected.
Use this step-by-step make your case process to put the multidimensional expertise of your staff to work on pressing problems. It will give them a chance to demonstrate their professionalism and shape their space within your transforming organization or industry as they wait for the “all clear” to return to the office.
1. Describe The Challenge That Needs A Solution
Clearly communicate the situation the organization faces – the circumstances that brought it on and hurdles it expects to encounter. Frame the challenge using the Five Ws: Who are the decision makers, what the challenge entails, where in the organization the challenge originated, when it must be solved, and why it must be resolved. Invite staff to participate in a Make Your Case exercise to provide out-of-the-box ideas that offer solutions.
2. Identify Volunteers
Ask staff members to specify their experiences and capabilities they can offer to solve the challenge. Clarify that any relevant capabilities are welcome, especially if employees have experiences in dealing with similar challenges in different settings. Volunteers may self-organize into groups or work individually. Invite questions that will help clarify the challenge and indicate available resources. Connect them with those who are currently working on the challenge to entertain diverse perspectives and ensure everyone involved has a voice.
3. Standardize The Process Of Bridging Ideas With Realities
Ask teams and individuals developing a Make Your Case proposal to summarize their understanding of the challenge and its context in a short document using a specified structure. For example, this might include: the challenge, the challenge background, the current situation, and the question that needs to be answered. Title the case with reference to the challenge, such as: “Reconnecting Socially While Staying Distant Physically.” It’s important that employees not skip this step and rush into delivering new ideas right away. While many are eager to make a pitch to prove that they’re ready to solve the problem, they trigger an opposite reaction — their ideas are rejected as not grounded in veracity.
4. Be Open-Minded In Estimating The Added Value
Ask employees to prepare a consulting report that analyzes the company challenge through the prism of the information they collect and the expertise they bring. For instance, an employee with experience in providing takeout services might recommend offering curbside service where people can pick up products while remaining socially distant. The mother who homeschooled her children may recommend online activities and develop product-related surveys that would keep customers engaged. The former marine might suggest the most effective way to share information within the company. Ask them to elaborate on the action steps and determine whether they will generate value for the company. Assess how well the cases address possible obstacles or needed resources.
As the ideas come from other contexts, they can add an edge to the company’s competitiveness if leaders are open-minded and willing to challenge industry boundaries.
5. Provide Feedback And A Plan To Move Forward
Always offer feedback on each Make Your Case proposal. Let staff know how much the company leadership appreciates their initiative and fresh ideas. If the case challenge is adopted in its entirety or in part, give full credit where it’s due. Together, determine next steps, timelines and roles. If possible, encourage Make Your Case authors to publish their cases in case collections or professional journals, or present them at professional conferences, which further earns them credit and showcases your company.
Communicating openly regarding the challenges the company faces is an effective way to rally employees to take action. They are often grateful that company leaders asked for their ideas instead of keeping them in the dark. The companies that utilize this practice will benefit from involved employees and innovative ideas.
Julia Ivy, PhD Psych, PhD Mgmt, is a strategy and international business executive professor and faculty director at Northeastern University. Her area of expertise is in bridging strategy and psychology in the concept of personal strategy. In addition to her academic work, she acts as an executive coach for those facing the “What’s next?” challenge. Her new book is Crafting Your Edge for Today’s Job Market: Using the BE-EDGE Method for Consulting Cases and Capstone Projects (Emerald Publishing, Oct. 7, 2019). Learn more at be-edge.com.
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