Business Standard

Book Extract: The power of inclusiveness

Talk to the people. Be open, honest and frank. One of the worst sins you can commit as a leader, is to surprise the organisation with your decision, says a new book

Jim Whitehurst 

Author: Jim Whitehurst
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press

ISBN: 9781625275271
Price: Rs 1,095

Marriott International, which began as a root beer stand in 1927 and now has more than thirty-seven hundred hotels in seventy-four countries, credits its core values- 'Putting people first, pursuing excellence, embracing change, acting with integrity, and serving our world' - for driving that kind of sustaining growth and for extensive recognition for its culture and treatment of employees. In an interview, JW Marriott Jr, former CEO of the company, discussed witnessing firsthand how former president Dwight Eisenhower seemed to thrive on including the opinions of others in making decisions. Marriott said that affected how he made decisions in his own company: "I tried to adopt that style of as I progressed in life, by asking my people, 'What do you think?' Now, I didn't always go with what they thought. But I felt that if I included them in the decision-making process, and asked them what they thought, and I listened to what they had to say and considered it, they usually got on board because they knew they'd been respected and heard, even if I went in a different direction than what they were recommending."

Similarly, Red Hat has taught me the power of inclusiveness to the extreme. I have learned the value of getting associates involved in creating the solutions rather than just sharing the decisions with them afterward. Go out and talk to the people with whom you work. By using technology as an ally, you can reach out to far more people in the organisation that can fit in any one meeting room. When you do, be open, honest, and frank. One of the worst sins I can commit, as a leader at Red Hat, is to surprise the organization with a decision I make. People at Red Hat are generally happy - morale scores are very high - precisely because we make sure everyone who works here knows his or her role in tackling the mission.

Millennial, folks born between 1980 and 2000, have been discussed ad nauseam in the mainstream business literature. The general conclusion is that this generation is less trustful of established hierarchies and expects to have a greater voice, especially in the workplace. They have grown up in a socially networked, information-rich environment where transparency and a free flow of ideas are the norm. So, while innovative and highly creative, today's workers often don't see eye to eye with - they may have opinions of their own about the direction of the organization - and, thus, relish participation in just about everything they do, whether across social networks or in the office in general. This culture shift is forcing many organizations to rethink their strategies for managing the modern workforce.

An example of this kind of change in action comes from the banking industry, which isn't necessarily known for its cutting edge practices. But when Tim Elkins, executive vice-president and chief information officer of PrimeLending, a mortgage provider with about 2,500 associates with more than 250 branches across the United States, joined the company six years ago, it took him about six months to acknowledge that something was different about the company's culture. After working in the mortgage lending industry for his entire career, he was used to organisations that relied on traditional top-down hierarchical decision making.

At PrimeLending, Elkins was blown away by how Todd Salmans, the company's CEO, would huddle with his executive team twice a week to share updates from around the company and to solicit ideas, rather than issue top-down directives of his own. "He says things like, 'This is what I'm thinking, what do you think?'" said Elkins. "Ultimately he is the decision maker, but he's actively seeking the input of his direct reports. And that's something that trickles down throughout the organization."

Similarly, Scott Bristol, PrimeLending's president, regularly sends out an e-mail to all employees asking for ideas about how the company could be run better or be a better place. "We have had quite a few wins come through that way," said Elkins. "It proves that people can make a difference at whatever level they work on. Scott responds to every e-mail and it's a great opportunity to get the ear of the president."

As another example of the collaborative nature of PrimeLending's culture, Elkins pointed to the fact that he and his executive vice president peers meet twice a week to talk through not just the good news, but also the challenges each faces on the job. In that way, they work together to solve the company's biggest issues rather than trying to defend their own turf. "One of the mantras we use around here is, 'I've got your back,'" said Elkins.

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance by Jim Whitehurst. Copyright 2015 Red Hat, Inc

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First Published: Mon, July 27 2015. 00:07 IST