The Power of Making Things Visible

Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of a special 4-part series related to Jamie’s book, When Millennials Take Over

One of the central tenets of traditional management philosophy is that information should be controlled. Secret formulas and key strategic moves, for example, are obviously not to be shared with competitors. Even internally, to avoid the risk of leaks or misinterpretation, information has been traditionally been doled out only on a “need to know” basis.

Unfortunately, this approach does not work well in today’s fast-paced, innovation-focused environment. Just take a look at General Stanley McChrystal’s TED talk about how he got several different Defense Intelligence communities to actually share intelligence with each other, as part of radically transforming efforts to combat terrorism in Iraq back in the mid 2000s. Once they started making information available to more people, they went from running 18 operations per month, to running 300 operations per month. That’s 10 operations a night, and it could only be achieved by actually declassifying much of the intelligence that his units were discovering. He realized that he couldn’t predict ahead of time “who needs to know,” so he shared the information with everyone, and got some amazing results.

So what does this mean for you as a leader? It means you need to figure out how to make things more visible inside your organization, because that will lead to more effective decisions across the board. As part of the research for our new book, When Millennials Take Over, we studied Menlo Innovations, a software company that went to great lengths to make more of their work visible internally.

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Their coders actually work in pairs—two people per one computer—so the code is being made visible as it is being written, resulting in far fewer errors and less time fixing bugs later. They also post their entire project management system to the wall of the one big room where all the coding pairs work. Through a simple system using (ironically) low-tech tools of paper, colored dots, and yarn, every single employee can see instantly who is ahead of schedule and who is behind. That enables the employees to make their own decisions about when to jump in and help others—all without needing a manager to tell them to do this. They even bring their clients into their offices on a weekly basis to help with the project planning. No more games about promising what can’t be delivered. Everyone gets to see exactly what progress is being made and they jointly decide on what gets worked on next.

You, of course, probably don’t run either a software company or a large Defense agency, so you can’t just copy what Menlo Innovations and General McChrystal have done when it comes to making things visible. But you can take a closer look at how you share information internally. You can take a rigorous look at your own decision-making processes to find out where the bottle-necks are and where more information would improve both the quality and yield of decisions. You can start giving your front lines the information they need to actually support the customers with whom they interact daily. This will not only improve performance, but it will improve your standing in the eyes of the next generation of both employees and customers. The Millennials grew up with mountains of information available to them, whenever and wherever they wanted it. If you confuse them by keeping things hidden internally, you will never get the kind of engagement that companies need to succeed in this day and age.

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Interested in reading more? Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant have co-authored their new book,[easyazon_link asin=”B00TG1D4IE” locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”achievstrate-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]When Millennials Take Over: Preparing For The Ridiculously Optimistic Future Of Business[/easyazon_link]. Kindle version is released tomorrow, be sure to pre-order today!

 

 

 

 

 

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Jamie Notter

Jamie is a founding partner at WorkXO where he helps leaders create stronger cultures and upgrade their workplaces, based on a deeper understanding of their organizational genetic code. He brings 25 years of experience in conflict resolution, generational differences, leadership, and culture change to the consulting firm he started with Maddie Grant and Charlie Judy in 2016. Author of two books (When Millennials Take Over, and Humanize), Jamie has a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in OD from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.

  • Marcie

    What’s the best way to start conversations like this? How do we let our bosses know that sharing information shouldn’t be something they fear, instead they should trust us to step up with it and take steps with them?

  • temafrank

    As I said in today’s #HBrogue chat, Knowledge is Power; Hoarding Knowledge is Weakness

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