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  Special Feature

Flip the Pyramid

Let your team figure out how to make it happen.

Posted 04/2/2012

By Dick Cross

Organizational charts! I hate them. They’re egotistical. They cap, rather than inspire, motivation.

You know – the ones with the owner at the top and everything else fanning below. Strung along lines from the highest box to more and more boxes across a page.

The most effective owners these days – the ones beating the pants off everyone else – see it just the other way. With themselves still occupying the point of the triangle – but at the bottom! A weird idea, but keep reading.

These revolutionists embrace a higher understanding of how organizations work best. And of how to get the best out of the individuals who work there. The population of traditional top-down businesses delivering truly exceptional results is declining.

Coupled with flipping the pyramid, the term “reporting to” is past its useful life. But many of us still see the chain of command as a law of nature. It rose from military discipline. Where the individual soldier isn’t expected to be smart enough to figure out on his own how to contribute to a win on the battlefield.

Henry Ford reflected this idea when he asked, “Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands they come with a brain attached?”

Ford had a lot of great ideas, but that wasn’t one of them. But it was understandable, given thinking of the times about work. When people were largely substitutes for machines. What’s not so understandable is why the idea persists in most of our businesses. While thinking and creativity have become the greater substance of nearly everyone’s work.

Maybe it’s because it feels good to be at the top of the food chain and have others “report to” us. Or maybe it’s because some of us still think we’re smarter than anyone else. Or maybe, simply, because that’s the model we’ve inherited, the one everyone else uses, and the only one we’ve ever seen demonstrated.

To be truthful, I think all of us are susceptible to all of those influences. Take just a moment and think about yourself? How susceptible are you?

If you admit you are, what can you do about it? And what might you expect as a result?

Here’s what I do. And what I’ve experienced. Every time.

I start by drawing my organizational chart upside down. With me at the bottom, and with sales across the top. Because I see my job as helping everyone else to make their highest contribution. With the proof of my success in high-profit sales. And furthermore, if I truly understand my job as such, and understand sales, I’ve got the best chance of seeing the relevance of everything else that lies in between.

From the point of the pyramid, up!

Then I spend most of my time thinking about how to catalyze others to achieve higher productivity on their own. By experimenting and setting up circumstances that encourage them to find their highest potentials. Which also usually throws out our legacy structures for job descriptions.

Situations that motivate smart people don’t put them in boxes. Or categorize them in spreadsheets. Nor do they limit individuals to “reporting to” someone else.

Smart people want a runway that’s at least partially open, with latitude and resources to develop themselves on their own. Which implies a greater burden on me to make sure that everyone understands the fundamentals of my whole business, the roles of the parts, points of advantage for our market and competitive positioning.

Concurrently, I need to trade in my bullhorn for a giant catcher’s mitt. To trade my instinct for enforcement for a passion to receive well-intended inputs. And to incorporate them into my own relentless search for new patterns to a better business.

Without losing track of my duty to keep my business performing optimally along the way.

And what should you expect?

It’ll take a while for you to shift into this mode of … push from the bottom. So start with a small project. With a short time frame and limited risk. Set the expectations. Provide the resources. Let your team figure out how to make it happen. Provide help when asked. When that’s successful, go a little bigger. Until the news of how you’re operating touches your entire company.

Then you’ll see a spike of enthusiasm. A culture emerging that seeks, rather than avoids, change. And that works together in a way that puts a new multiplier on the old idea of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Dick Cross

Dick Cross is the author of “Just Run It,” an Amazon best-seller. He is founder and managing principal of The Cross Partnership Ltd., and is a consultant and speaker. He may be reached at Follow Dick Cross on Twitter – @DickCross.




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